A Case for the Commons: The Snow Crab in the Barents

By Dr Brooks Kaiser

This article has been written by Brooks A Kaiser, Melina Kourantidou and Linda M Fernandez, and published by the Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 210, pp. 338-348. You can access the full article here.


• Snow Crab is a new biological invader but also new profitable resource in the Barents
• Uncertain property rights complicate managing uncertain ecological, economic changes
• Property rights determinations endogenously driven by asymmetric returns to Snow Crab
• Open access may have positive externalities in the Barents Snow Crab invasion
• Rights and their enforcement affect other resource net benefits under climate change


Closing of the marine commons increases economic returns and slows depletion of valuable ocean resources. Rights-based management is widely used for fisheries rationalization. Regulators with sound biological and economic information can in theory set overall harvest control rules that protect the fish stocks, and manage for external costs and benefits from harvest. These may include ecosystem damages, overcapitalization in the fishery, and/or equity concerns. Regulatory efforts and related rights-based management instruments may increase the returns to fishery stakeholders but miss important challenges that are increasing under climate change. These include transboundary resource management and tradeoffs between local economic returns and Total Economic Value. The case of the valuable, yet invasive, crab species, Chionoecetes Opilio (Snow Crab) in the Barents Sea illustrates the concerns. The spread of the crab has known and unknown ecosystem and commercial fishery risks, particularly to uncertain ecosystem values. We show how the progression of the biological invasion interacts with human strategic behavior to identify limitations of management options. Open access harvesting of the species in international waters has generated a positive spillover effect by slowing the westward spread of the species to sensitive benthic ecosystems. This benefit is threatened by reclassification of the crab as a “sedentary species” (one which is not capable of leaving the seabed when harvestable (UNCLOS, 1982, article 77, part VI)). This shifts the regulatory environment for the crab in ways that exacerbate the invasion in exchange for protection of local gains. Such problems will increase in magnitude and impact as climate changes increasingly affect species’ ranges. Optimal decision-making regarding profitable species in new ecosystems must incorporate how strategic institutional shifts occurring in response to the economic incentives asymmetrically affect local and global stakeholders in addition to standard concerns over ecological and economic damages.

You can read the full article here.


Dr Brooks Kaiser serves as Unit Lead of the Fisheries Unit at Polar Research and Policy Initiative. She is an environmental and resource economist and economic historian. She holds a PhD in Economics from Northwestern University and is a Professor at the University of Southern Denmark, Department of Sociology, Environmental and Business Economics. She uses economic tools with interdisciplinary connections to ecology and history to generate insights into policies governing resource use and sustainable development, with a particular focus on invasive species. In conjunction with the other editors, she is currently investigating the impacts of the Red King and Snow Crab introductions in the Barents Sea and has run several workshops bringing together researchers across disciplines relevant to the Arctic with stakeholders, resource managers, and policy makers. She regularly contributes to international economics, natural science, and Arctic conferences and meetings as speaker and/or organizer, and publishes in both economics and interdisciplinary venues.