Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security


Open access fisheries represent a classic common pool resources problem, in which individual incentives produce a “race to fish” at the expense of other current and future users. Fisheries economists view such problems as one of externalities, transaction costs and poorly defined property rights.

However, fisheries managers and policymakers are tasked with more than simply managing the rate of extraction of the stock. They must design instruments and set policies capable of achieving multiple biological, ecological, economic and social objectives in a dynamic and uncertain environment. These objectives often conflict with each other such that they cannot be achieved simultaneously.

Holistic management frameworks, such as ecosystems approaches to fisheries, can be employed to set management objectives, evaluate management options and determine responses to changes in biological and ecological factors to ensure the sustainable use of the stock. Fisheries managers have before them an array of management instruments with which to implement ecosystems approaches.

Rights-based management (RBM) approaches grounded in property rights theory have been shown to be capable of dealing with the central common pool resource problem and have become increasingly common in domestic fisheries. However, their ability to address more complex biological, ecological and social objectives is less certain. The robust separation of management instruments, including transferable property rights, assigned appropriately to each objective has been put forward as a framework to support the achievement of multiple objectives for the management of common pool resources. Such an approach is designed to support a robust management system – one that is capable of withstanding changes over time without affecting the fundamental structure of the management system.

Transboundary fisheries, such as fisheries for highly migratory species, magnify these challenges. Their management requires cooperation between States with competing interests to agree on compatible, precautionary measures across the geographic range of the stocks, without the aid of a centralised decision maker to arbitrate between those interests. The tuna fisheries of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) – the largest in the world – exemplify these challenges. While international law provides a basis for RBM, ecosystems approaches, cooperation, compatibility and precaution, there has been limited research into the application of RBM in transboundary fisheries.

This thesis aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of how RBM can be applied to highly migratory fish stocks by examining the extent to which the institutional framework in the WCPO provides a basis for well-defined property rights. It draws on extensive property rights scholarship and the robust separation framework to develop an analytical framework for the evaluation of management instruments that seek to limit catches, fishing effort or fishing capacity, and allocate shares in those limits to participating States and Territories.

The results are discussed with a view to identifying reforms to strengthen the definition of property rights in the WCPO. The study demonstrates that the methodical analysis of property rights can be employed to identify key reforms to support a robust management system that can aid the achievement of multiple objectives in the presence of dynamism and uncertainty.

FoR codes (2008)

180111 Environmental and Natural Resources Law, 180116 International Law (excl. International Trade Law), 140205 Environment and Resource Economics, 0502 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.