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The Use and Abuse of Environmental Knowledge: A Bloomington School Interpretation of the Canadian Fisheries Act of 1868

Abstract

This paper will focus on the ambitious plan for regulation embodied in the Dominion Fisheries Act of 1868, a law passed by the Canadian federal parliament in its very first year of existence. The 1868 law was intended to bring the nation's fisheries firmly under the control of officials employed by the new federal government. The paper argues that 1868 law, which was designed to address what would today be called Tragedy of the Commons problems, was a product of the hubris identified by Hayek as "the fatal conceit." The centralized and bureaucratic approach to governing fisheries represented by the 1868 Fisheries Act did not work well because the knowledge that would have been required for successful management of fisheries was highly dispersed. Drawing on Hayek and the Bloomington School, this paper argues that the experience of Canada's fisheries sector in the generation after 1868 illustrates the problems with centralized management Common-Pool Resources. In the 1890s, the centralized approach represented by the Fisheries Act of 1868 was replaced by a more flexible and decentralized system Hayek's theory of knowledge would suggest the reversal of centralization over environmental policy in the 1890s was a positive development that helped Canadians to reconcile the goals of economic development and the protection of the environment. The Hayekian paradigm suggests that control over environmental policy should be devolved downwards to the levels of government closest to resource users.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    This paper is focused on regulation of the freshwater, tidal, and inshore fisheries. The regulation of ocean fisheries, which was connected to thorny diplomatic issues, is outside the purview of this article. U.S. fishermen had enjoyed the right to fish in British North American waters under the terms of the 1854 Reciprocity Treaty. The end of Reciprocity in 1866 had resulted in the exclusion of American fisherman from Canada’s territorial waters, a major grievance for the United States government. The Canadian government’s efforts to define and then enforce its three-mile limit caused anger in fishing communities in New England. The fisheries question remained a major irritant in Anglo-American relations until the Treaty of Washington in 1871. This treaty sacrificed the perceived interests of Canadian ocean fishermen in order to achieve a comprehensive solution to outstanding disputes between Britain and the United States (Messamore, 2004).

  2. 2.

    Prior to 1867, the term “Canada” only referred to the Province of Canada, which corresponds to the present-day provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Between 1867 and 1871, the “Dominion of Canada” expanded, which meant that a territory extending from the Pacific Ocean to Atlantic became subject to the authority of the federal parliament. The Canadian parliament then used this authority to impose the Dominion Fisheries Act on all regions of the new country.

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Acknowledgement

I would like to thank Mark Pennington and Pierre Desrochers for their detailed comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I also acknowledge helpful feedback received when I presented this paper at Joseph E. Rotman School of Management in Toronto. I would like to thank the Foundation for Canadian Studies in the United Kingdom for financial assistance that made this paper possible. I would also like to thank three anonymous reviewers at the RAE and the Editor for their comments.

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Correspondence to Andrew David Allan Smith.

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Smith, A.D.A. The Use and Abuse of Environmental Knowledge: A Bloomington School Interpretation of the Canadian Fisheries Act of 1868. Rev Austrian Econ 29, 139–161 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11138-014-0296-2

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Keywords

  • Common-Pool Resources
  • Free-Market Environmentalism
  • Fisheries
  • Nested Governance
  • Bloomington School
  • F.A. Hayek
  • Elinor Ostrom
  • Fatal Conceit