Answering Lord Perry's Question: Dissecting Regulatory Overfishing

Posted: 30 May 2003

See all articles by Josh Eagle

Josh Eagle

University of South Carolina - School of Law

Barton H. Thompson

Stanford Law School


In 1995, in response to the distressed condition of the British fishing industry, the House of Lords held a series of hearings on "Fish Stock Conservation and Management." Lord Perry of Walton posed the straight-forward question of why regulation was not succeeding:

If one takes all the management systems into account - TACs (total allowable catches or annual quotas), number of days at sea and the decommissioning program - none of them has stopped the gross over-fishing that has taken place. There seem to be three factors to account for it: first, the scientific advice that is given; secondly, how far that advice is accepted by politicians who set the TACs and quotas; and, thirdly, whether the fishermen obey the regulations. Which of these are the most at fault at the moment?

Lord Perry's question led us to ask to what degree publicly available information in the United States could shed light on the sources of overfishing in individual fisheries - what we will call "regulatory overfishing." First, we set out a typology of the potential sources of regulatory overfishing. Next, we examine two case illustrations of federally managed, overfished fisheries in the United States. Each case generates important insights into the causes of regulatory overfishing and lessons for future management. In the final section of the paper, we make several suggestions aimed at improving fisheries management and the management process.

Keywords: Fisheries management, annual quotas, total allowable catch, allowable biological catch, overfishing, scientific advice, implementation, enforcement

JEL Classification: N5, Q2

Suggested Citation

Eagle, Josh and Thompson, Barton H., Answering Lord Perry's Question: Dissecting Regulatory Overfishing. Available at SSRN:

Josh Eagle (Contact Author)

University of South Carolina - School of Law ( email )

Main & Greene Streets
Columbia, SC SC 29208
United States
803-777-2486 (Phone)

Barton H. Thompson

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
650-723-2518 (Phone)
650-725-8509 (Fax)

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