Fisheries continue to be among the best examples of the tragedy of the commons in action. As Garrett Hardin himself noted in his 1968 essay, "the oceans of the world continue to suffer" from the dynamic of the commons. Alas, little has changed. Ocean fisheries remain in trouble, as study after study reveals. Most fisheries around the globe are fully or over-exploited, and a substantial number have already faced collapse. The problem with fisheries management runs deep.
It would be nice to think this is a problem confined to poor or developing countries, but it's not. Dozens of fish stocks in the United States remain overfished, despite herculean efforts to impose meaningful fishery regulations, from total catch limits to restrictions on fishing gear other inputs. Such measures try to limit access, but they do not alter the fundamental incentives of the commons. Each participant in the fishery retains every incentive to get what he or she can, even at the expense of the whole. In many fisheries, we see this manifested in a destructive and wasteful "race to catch," as each boat tries to get what it can before the fishery reaches its catch limit and closes. The resulting practices may make for good reality television, but they don't foster sound ecological stewardship. Traditional regulatory strategies do little to encourage concern among resource users for the long-term health of the resource and pit resource users against conservation interests.