Enforcing Fishery Laws: The Key to Protecting the Commons
Marc Gaden, Jill Wingfield, and Chris Goddard
Most people likely have had experience with law enforcement and, we suspect, have not found the occasion to be pleasant. The infraction was probably low-level: a speeding ticket, a parking violation, leaving trash cans at the curb for weeks; in other words, routine citations that only the most pious manage to avoid. Some even may have had a more serious brush with the law. Offenders are held to account for their actions and are punished: fines, demerits on their driver’s license, probation, and perhaps prison. Those sanctions are in place to punish an offender sufficiently to deter bad behavior and to set an example for others.
Based on personal experience, we also note that few offenders believe, let alone admit, that the punishment is fair. At some point, they likely have thought, “Really? A $125 fine for five over the speed limit? C’mon!” Yet, that is the point: law enforcement exists to punish violators and prevent behavior that, as rational or minor it may be at the individual level, could have detrimental effects on others, on society, or on a natural resource. There’s the rub. Is it possible a few individuals could affect a system as large as, say, the Great Lakes? Is it possible a couple of extra fish in the box would have any bearing on a fishery? Certainly not if you are the only fisher out there. But you are not, just as you are not the only car on the road, the only person who needs that last parking space, the only citizen who grimaces at your abandoned trash cans. You could rationalize (and might even feel badly about) keeping an undersized fish or importing a cool snakehead for your aquarium, but what about that guy on the other side of the lake with an illegal trap net? Throw the book at him!