Saving Whales by Creating Harvest Quotas

Written by on January 18, 2012 in Policy & Ocean Law

Emily Tripp
Senior Writer

An economist and two marine scientists have suggested that we could save whales by creating tradable harvest quotas.

Every year, anti-whaling nonprofit organizations spend nearly $25 million on efforts to end commercial whaling.  Unfortunately, every year, commercial whaling still continues to grow.  The number of whales harvested annually has doubled since 1990 to about 2,000 per year under the current system.

The article, “A market approach to saving the whales,” was published in the January 12 edition of the journal Nature.

Right whale mother and calf.  Photo Credit: NOAA.

Right whale mother and calf. Photo Credit: NOAA.

In this article, Christopher Costello, professor of economics, and Steve Gaines, professor marine science, at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Leah Gerber, a population ecologist and marine conservation biologist at Arizona State University, propose a market-based solution to saving whales.

“We propose an alternative path forward that could break the deadlock: quotas that can be bought and sold, creating a market that would be economically, ecologically, and socially viable for whalers and whales alike,” they write.

In this situation, whalers could end up purchasing all the shares and harvesting whales at a sustainable level, or conservationists could buy all the shares and save all the whales for at least one season.

“Because conservationists could bid for quotas, whalers could profit from them even without harvesting the animals,” the professors say.

Some are worried that whalers will not agree to setting quotas, but many whaling nations have previously proposed quotes as a way to legitimize their work.  Some conservationists think that it is wrong to create quotas for the same reasons.

However, the authors explain that “if quotas are set properly, transactions would reduce the number of whales harvested, quite possibly to zero, unlike existing protocols, which seem to be increasing the catches.”

They conclude: “The fervent anti-whaler will be quick to argue you cannot and should not put a price on the life of a whale; a species should be protected irrespective of its economic value.  But unless all nations can be convinced or forced to adopt this view, whaling will continue.  It is precisely because of the lack of a real price tag in the face of different values that anti-whaling operations have had such limited success…. By placing an appropriate price tag on the life of a whale, a whale conservation market provides an immediate and tangible way to save them.”

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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