The salmon fishery provides a nearly perfect example of the differences between private and common property management. Salmon are anadromous fish. They hatch in the clear, shallow waters of the upper reaches of rivers, go downstream to the sea where they grow to maturity, and then return upstream to spawn another generation in the same rivers where they were hatched. Management of a fishery should be a relatively low-cost operation because the only requirements are to maintain a high-quality spawning environment and to prevent overfishing. The fish don't need to be fed because they grow to maturity in the sea and return as a highly valuable source of protein.
Outside the United States we find a strikingly different situation. In Iceland and in some northern European countries, the salmon fishery is in much healthier shape because the rights to the salmon or the salmon rivers are privately owned. Some of the finest stretches of rivers are owned or leased by individuals, groups of fishermen, or fishing lodges, and the salmon are not overfished. It is in the economic self-interest of the resource owners to conserve the salmon. Limits are effectively placed on the number of fish that can be caught, enough fish are released to maintain a healthy population, and the owners carefully protect their streams and see that agricultural and grazing activities do not adversely affect the quality of the water.
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