Date of Award

8-2005

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Marine Policy

Advisor

James M. Acheson

Second Committee Member

Yong Chen

Third Committee Member

Robert L. Vadas

Abstract

A decade or so ago the Maine sea urchin industry was the second most profitable fishery in Maine. In just a few short years from that time the industry is a shell of what it once was. The question is how and why did the Maine sea urchin industry decline so rapidly? The answer is that rules were not devised until too late to stop the overharvesting of the urchin resource. This thesis is concerned with the reasons that sea urchin industry members over-exploited the resource and why the government allowed it to occur. From the outset of the sea urchin industry the fishery was kept as an open access resource. This presented several collective action problems which required rules to be put in place to solve them: 1) rules needed to be created and then enforced to exclude "free riders" and 2) those individuals permitted to exploit the resource needed to agree to establish rules for limiting their exploitation. The government could not get the rules necessary to solve the two collective action problems, which resulted in overcapitalization and increasing exploitation of the resource. My research demonstrates that there were a number of factors that made it difficult to solve the collective action problems and develop adequate management strategies and institutions. The common pool nature of the resource, the speed at which the Maine sea urchin fishery developed, the social characteristics of the industry, the nature of Maine government itself, policy failure, and lack of a conservation ethic all played a part in the Maine sea urchin industry's poor management. Much more though needs to be put into thinking about institutions and management structures and how they will work within a particular system. We need to spend the time and effort to devise management strategies and institutions that are robust to uncertainty. Only then will our natural resources have a chance to be conserved and sustained over time.

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