Tragedy of the commons

7th June 2013

In the 1800s a story emerged of English cow herders sharing a common tract of land. Individual herders added cow after cow and the land’s productivity began to decline. The herders knew that too many cows would make the land useless but all assumed that there was no way to avoid this so all continued to add cows before it was too late. This became known as the tragedy of the commons. It is a term that refers to the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently but acting rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests. In the 4th century BC Aristotle said, “That which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it.” SETFIA believes in maintaining strong property rights in the fishery because some form of ownership means that stakeholders will support rules and work together to go above and beyond these rules to protect the common resource in the long term.