Hunter R Maloumian
November 26, 2012
Cooperatives have a presence in a variety of industries ranging from banking, retail, utilities and fisheries. Cooperatives are defined by the National Cooperative Business Association as “owned and democratically controlled by their members-the people who use the co-op’s services or buy its goods-not by outside investors; Co-op members elect their board of directors from within the membership. In addition, they are motivated not by profit, but by service-to meet their members’ needs or affordable and high quality goods or services; exist solely to serve their members.” The article goes onto to further elaborate on the economic impact of cooperatives stating that cooperatives account for nearly $654 billion in revenue, over two million jobs, $75 billion in wages and benefits paid and a total of $133.5 billion in value-added income. The economic impact of cooperatives is real and the additional job security present makes them a more appealing business model in down markets. Due to these facts, a variety of examples of Cooperatives exist in the United States.
Cooperatives have a large presence in the United States fishing industry and closely fit the above definition. The fisherman’s collective marketing act of 1934 allow fisherman to jointly harvest, market, and price their product without being in violation of antitrust laws. According to the United States Department of Agriculture “Only 5 percent of U.S. fishers use a cooperative to market their fish. Use of cooperatives is greatest in the Pacific region and least in the Atlantic and Gulf regions”. From this data it can be concluded that the fishing industry in the United States does not completely see the value by joining a cooperative. It is possible this outlook might shift if certain regions become over fished. One of the aspects of a cooperative is to maintain the longevity of the employees within the organization. From this perspective, it would be in the cooperatives direct interest to act in a sustainable manner and maintain the livelihood of different fish populations for future generations to harvest. According to the article, Sharing the Catch, “a team of ecologists and economists says giving fishermen or cooperatives fixed catch shares — rather than forcing them to compete in a derby-style harvest — can make fishing safer, help preserve fish populations and help battered stocks recover.”
Cooperatives and share catches are not a perfect system. In Dutch Harbor, an Aleutian Port, where the Discovery Channel show The Deadliest Catch was filmed has recently embraced this model to sustain the population of King and Snow Crabs. Although the model has had limited success, it is projected that the population of these crabs will still be fewer this year than they were last year. Andy Rosenberg believes it is crucial that government impose regulations to limit the amount of stock that is caught even in areas that are self-regulated through the use of cooperatives. Modern research conducted by economist Christopher Costello and marine ecologist Steven Gaines, both of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and economist John Lynham of the University of Hawaii paints a dismal future if regulation is not imposed. They predicted that if “overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction continue unabated, all the world’s fisheries would collapse by 2048”. It is important that fisherman and government join together to do everything and anything within reason to keep this industry sustainable. As the world’s population increases, the need for additional food/protein will increase and will place additional strain on an already crumbling industry. There is significant room for improvement however considering only a small percentage of the fisherman in the United States is currently operating under a cooperative. It is even more important however, that the United States government imposes regulation and steep penalties to those over fish a certain region or population.