Biodiversity & Conservation

, Volume 12, Issue 12, pp 2361–2392 | Cite as

A study of environmental conflict: the economic value of Grey Seals in southwest England



This paper reports an analysis of a typical case of negative bilateral externality – a situation in which two legitimate activities, fishing and wildlife conservation, each give rise to damages to the other party. The Cornish fishing industry believes that its annual profits are reduced by an estimated £100 000 because of the damage by seal populations to caught fish. About 80 individuals belonging to the Cornish Grey Seal population (of about 400 specimens) are killed as a by-catch of trawling. Thus, the status quo is clearly inefficient: seals are perceived to damage fish and fishermen definitely damage seals. The biological dynamics of the seal population is not absolutely clear, so that a precautionary approach requires that care should be taken to avoid the risk of damaging the population in an irreversible way. Moreover, public opinion considers seals to be a high value ‘flagship’ species. One of the goals of any conflict resolution should be to capture the economic value of seal conservation – i.e. to convert conservation benefits into resource flows – and use at least part of it in order to create incentives for a more efficient allocation of resources. The authorities should invest in seal conservation (i.e. compensating fishermen) if the benefits deriving from conservation exceed the opportunity costs of conservation. Such a solution clearly requires that the conservation benefits be estimated. To investigate the economic value of seal conservation a contingent valuation study is carried out. A contingent valuation study utilises a questionnaire approach and part of the questionnaire seeks to elicit individuals' willingness to pay (WTP) for a change in the state of some good or asset, in this case seal conservation. Due to resource limitations, the sample size of those interviewed in the study reported is small, so that we cannot be extremely confident about the results. However, they are consistent with those derived from similar studies on ‘flagship’ species. Results show a mean WTP for recreational use of seals of about £8 per person for the option of seeing seals in a specialised sanctuary for seals recovered from accidents, and closer to £9 for seeing seals in the wild. The annual non-use value of seals – i.e. value unassociated with actual viewing – was found to be £526 000 in the most conservative estimation, aggregated over the Seal Sanctuary visitors. This economic potential could be realised in several ways and used to compensate fishermen for changing fishing techniques, targets and fishing areas. Finally, we investigate the role the Seal Sanctuary is playing in this context and some policy suggestions are discussed.

Conflict Economic value Externality Fishing Grey seals 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento Informatica, Sistemistica e ComunicazioneUniversità degli Studi di Milano BicoccaMilanItaly
  2. 2.Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global EnvironmentUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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