Regulating Biological Resources: Lessons from Marine Fisheries in the United States
Can policy sustainably manage economically valuable biological resources? We find evidence it can, with the use of science-based decision rules. In 1996, with United States fish populations in decline, Congress overhauled fishing laws with scientific thresholds for rebuilding overfished stocks. The law’s impact is contested, and lawmakers have spent a decade debating its reauthorization. We develop the first causally interpretable evaluation of this law, exploiting the fact that the European Union has comparable fisheries but only recently developed similar laws. Compiling the largest dataset to date on US and EU fishery status and management, we examine fish populations that decline to unhealthy levels and measure the effect of a policy that aims to rebuild them to health. We find that treated stocks increase by 50% relative to these counterfactuals. Though the policy constrains catch, we find both catch and revenue ultimately rebound and stabilize at or above baseline levels.