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Insights 21: 9 June 2017
Fran O'Sullivan on the NZ Initiative delegation to Switzerland - Newstalk ZB
Roger Partridge on personal grievance changes - NZ Herald
The Overseas Catch: The state of recreational fisheries management abroad

Let prices do the job
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
You do not need prices in a land of plenty. Prices are a wonderful way of coordinating competing demands on scarce resources. They emerge, along with property rights, when scarcity starts to matter.

And scarcity is starting to matter for a lot of the things that tourists like in New Zealand.

Prior to European colonisation, Canadian beaver and other furred animals were so abundant relative to local demand that there was no need to use property rights to maintain trapping grounds. But as economist Harold Demsetz’s classic 1967 work showed, when demand increased and scarcity developed, indigenous Algonkians and Iroquois developed property rights over hunting grounds.

Freedom camping spots near Tekapo or road access at the Tongariro Crossing are a bit like that. When trans-Pacific travel was prohibitively expensive, those amenities were under little pressure. So there was then little point in enforcing property rights over those spots, or using prices. But that is no longer the case.

This week’s Christchurch Press reports on growing Kiwi complaints about pressure from international tourists. Those complaints are perfectly understandable, but the problem is not the tourists. The problem is New Zealand’s refusal to use prices to ration access to scarce amenities. 

Tourism offers plentiful opportunities not only to showcase New Zealand to the world, but also to improve a host of local amenities for the benefit of both tourists and Kiwis. But it cannot do that under current settings.

International tourists currently contribute over a billion dollars in GST. If more of the tourists’ contribution to the government’s coffers turned into better facilities in the places tourists go, pressure on those places would ease, making a better experience for locals and tourists alike.

Turning back to Canada, access to National Parks requires an annual pass – you hang it from the car’s rear-view mirror. The system works well enough that, when Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary with free annual park passes, the government drew some complaint. While some Canadians liked the free passes, others rightly worried about the resulting congestion and the implicit cost to the government.

Using prices to manage scarcity, with higher prices for foreign visitors than for domestic residents, would not only help ease congestion. It would also provide the funding needed to improve those facilities.

We just have to be willing to let prices do the work.

A world-leading solution?
Dr Randall Bess | Research Fellow |
The 2017 Budget brought a boost to fisheries management intended to enhance New Zealand’s much-touted world-leading Quota Management System. The Minister for Primary Industries announced $30.5 million towards a world-leading Integrated Electronic Monitoring and Reporting System (IEMRS).

According to the Minister, IEMRS will provide us with “the most transparent and accountable commercial fishery anywhere in the world … every fishing vessel can be monitored at all times … and any illegal activity dealt with.”

The Minister and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) should be commended for fast tracking IEMRS. It is well overdue.

Advances in electronic fisheries reporting systems will provide a better and timelier understanding of total catches than the current paper-based system riddled with errors and delays.

However, on-board automated camera monitoring systems are more challenging.

Earlier this week, Newshub reported that another MPI report had been leaked. This report reviews the camera monitoring systems used on a trial basis in the snapper 1 fishery. The trial uses cameras from Archipelago Marine Research in British Columbia and Trident Systems, the latter owned by a consortium of New Zealand quota holders.

The report found the quality of the camera footage it recorded was too poor to be used to determine the size of snapper. As such, it may not support prosecutions for illegal discarding of snapper in relation to its 25 centimetre commercial minimum legal size.

And, while MPI and the Minister rubbished this report, the Minister acknowledged that “No camera in the world can do that for size.

Well, that will depend on how the fish is presented. The MPI report refers to several systems around the world that can precisely measure fish length by controlling the position of the fish relative to the camera.

For example, Archipelago’s system accommodates a calibrated chute that allows fish to pass beneath a camera mounted 1.5 or 2.5 metres directly above. The MPI report’s research was based on a distance of 8 metres.

Trident Systems’ Chairman confirmed that the snapper 1 trial system’s intent is primarily for research purposes, not enforcement.

If IEMRS will be world-leading, the system should be designed to the best standards for research and enforcement purposes – while weighing the system’s costs against the benefits for different types of vessels.

We look forward to seeing what the Minister delivers.

First, do no harm
Martine Udahemuka | Research Fellow |
You won’t normally find this column defending nanny-state initiatives around healthy eating.
Personal responsibility matters, and the simple fact that somebody chooses food you would not choose for yourself hardly means they are irrational, or that force-feeding them things they do not like would make them better off.
But in the grand scheme of things, Christchurch’s Healthy Eating strategy is not nearly as bad as it could have been. And that is something to celebrate in a crazy world.
Christchurch will be making it easy for residents to find fruit trees. It sounds a bit daft, but there are a lot of abandoned fruit gardens in the Red Zone. And going out fruit picking on a Sunday afternoon can be lovely.
Encouraging schools to have community gardens can similarly be nice. It isn’t free. And we don’t know what courses better nutritional education in the schools might push aside.
Councillor Aaron Keown’s warning that “If you don’t know five times five you won’t die, but if you don’t know what you are eating you will” seems a bit hasty given New Zealand’s declining numeracy scores in the international league tables. But better nutrition education in some schools could well be part of a solution.
And it makes for a nice contrast with the utterly absurd recommendations that also came recently from Auckland University’s public health researchers.

In a piece published in the International Journal of Public Health, the team showed that people living in more deprived communities actually have an easier time walking to the local supermarket in New Zealand.

The walk to the local supermarket, or fruit and veg shop, is half as long if you live in the poorest communities as compared to the richest neighbourhoods.
Sounds like cause for celebration, right?
Well, they sure didn’t put it that way. Instead, they talked a lot about food swamps and the need to make it really hard to put in fast food restaurants near “high risk” communities. And about how retailers are targeting deprived communities with unhealthy options – playing down that supermarkets wind up in the same places.
So in a world where really crazy policies are not far from the table, Christchurch’s rather less ridiculous one may be cause for minor celebration – in a world that’s far from perfect.
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