Tag: over-consumption

It’s a relatively common dish to see on a menu at a restaurant: mackerel. This particular fish has been promoted as a healthy and sustainable dish, but now its sustainability is coming into question and the Marine Conservation Society has taken it off its ‘fish to eat’ list. My brother Hugh is a marine biologist and often comments on which fish we should be avoiding due to sustainability issues (especially given how much I like fish!) So, how is this an economics issue?

There a couple of key things to pick out here. Firstly, with the conservationists’ warning of this issue of unsustainability, they have been asking consumers to reduce the amount of mackerel they buy. This will naturally have an impact on fisherman. If consumers do listen to the conservationists and hence reduce their demand for mackerel, we could see a fall in the price of this fish and a reduction in the fishermen’s turnover. It could be that we see a switch in consumption to other more sustainable fish, especially if we see some form of intervention.

Another area concerning economics is the idea of over-fishing. For years, there have been disputes over who has the rights to these fish stocks. In the past, the Faroe Isles and Iceland have increased their quotas significantly, as mackerel appear to have migrated to their shores, contributing to this question of sustainability. Iceland and the Faroe Isles have ‘unilaterally agreed their quotas … as they are not governed by the common fisheries policy’.

The question is: when fisherman catch one additional mackerel, what are they considering? Do they think about the private benefit to them (or their company) or do they consider the external cost imposed on others? Whenever one fish is taken from the sea, there is one less fish available for other fishermen.

This leads to over-consumption of fish and contributes towards the well-documented depletion of fish stocks and ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, if account is not taken of the external cost imposed on other fishermen.

The total catch is now far in excess of what has been scientifically recommended and previously agreed upon by all participating countries. Negotiations to introduce new catch allowances have so far failed to reach agreement.

There are hopes that an international policy on quotas can be agreed to ensure mackerel levels return to or remain at a sustainable level. However, at present no progress has been made. Until some form of an agreement is reached, fishermen around Iceland and the Faroe Isles will continue to battle against the conservationists. The following articles consider this fishy topic.

Mackerel taken off conservationists’ ‘fish-to-eat’ list The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (22/1/13)
Warning over mackerel stocks Scottish Herald (22/1/13)
Fishing quota talks begin amid ongoing disputes and finger-pointing The Scotsman, Fran Urquhart (14/1/13)
Mackerel no longer an ethical choice because of over-fishing The Telegraph, Louise Gray (22/1/13)
Ths fishy tale of macro-mismanagement The Guardian, Annalisa Barbieri (22/1/13)
You can still eat mackerel – just make sure it’s British The Telegraph, Louise Gray (22/1/13)
Dispute means mackerel is no longer fish of the day BBC News, Matt McGrath (22/1/13)
Mackerel struck off sustainable fish list Associated Press (22/1/13)


  1. Why are quotas set by the EU for fishing? Who do they apply to?
  2. Why is there an externality from fishing?
  3. What is the Tragedy of the Commons? Using a diagram with average and marginal revenue product and average and marginal cost illustrate the market equilibrium and the social optimum. Why are they different?
  4. Following on from question 3, what does this suggest about the role of governments?
  5. If the conservationists’ request regarding buying less mackerel is successful, what impact might this have on fishermen and fisheries?
  6. If consumers do switch to buying other fish, what would happen to the equilibrium in the mackerel market and in the market for other fish? Think about this question in terms of general equilibrium analysis.

Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for Economics (and a prize of $1.4m) on Monday for their work on how economic transactions operate outside markets in common spaces and within companies. Their work includes topics such as the free-rider problem and how this can lead to a sub-optimal over-consumption of a resource. Their work also considers economic governance and how this has led to the increasing popularity of outsourcing for companies.

Despite the prestige of a Nobel Prize, there have been suggestions that a Nobel Prize in Economics should not have been awarded this year, given the inability of economists to predict the financial crisis and mixed opinions about how to prevent another one in the future. What do you think?

US duo wins Nobel for economics Financial Times, Chris Giles (12/10/09)
Two Americans win Nobel economics prize MSNBC, Associated Press (14/10/09)
What this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics says about the Nobel Prize in Economics The New York Times, Steven Levitt (12/10/09)
Humbling year for bickering economists Financial Times, Alan Beattie (11/10/09)


  1. What is market failure and how does the free-rider problem fit in?
  2. Do you think economists were at fault for not foreseeing the financial crisis?
  3. Do you think that the research of Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson was deserving of the Nobel Prize and how important is their research in the context of economic theory?