Southeast Missouri State University
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Ann K. Hayes (573) 651-2552




CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., June 6, 2003 - With the onset of summer quickly approaching, many sports enthusiasts across the region will take to the water in the hopes of pulling in a catch of crappie, catfish and other local favorites.

But for Dr. Bill Weber, professor of economics at Southeast Missouri State University, his attention is focused on fish of a different variety. Weber has immersed himself in research to help the Norway Department of Fisheries determine the appropriate price for licenses to operate salmon farms off the coast of Norway. And this is no fish story.

Norway is the leading fish farming country worldwide in terms of production of Atlantic salmon. The country produced about 440,000 metric tons in 2001, accounting for 41 percent of the total world supply of Atlantic salmon, Weber said. The salmon are grown in fish corrals or pens. The business has grown tremendously since its start in the 1970s, and mergers and purchases have led to just a few large companies.

The growth also can be attributed to the surge in hydroelectric dams. Because of these, "Atlantic salmon are almost extinct," he said.

While wild salmon runs still exist in Maine and Nova Scotia, most wild salmon today come from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.

With the growth in salmon production has come the issue of water area, said Weber, who teaches in Southeast's environmental science program.

Norway's fish farming industry is regulated by its own fish farming act of 1985, which says it is illegal to run a fish farm without a license.

"Participation in the industry is strictly regulated by a license system," Weber said, adding that a license typically comprises 12,000 cubic meters of sea area.

He says that while the license that gives access to the water is important, it is also a key asset in terms of value. Currently in Norway, there are about 800 active licenses, each one giving access to about 12,000 cubic meters of ocean space. But in the last several years, public debate has surged over the distribution of free licenses. After much debate, authorities have decided to distribute future licenses based on a fee.

"The worst things in life are free," Weber said. "Everyone wants to fish, and that causes extinction. When we impose prices, higher prices can help ration the resource."

But what that charge should be, nobody seems to agree upon, Weber said.

"Individual countries own the water bordering their coasts out so far until international waters are reached. Until international waters are reached, it is common property," he said. "What is a cubic meter of water worth? No one knows how much it is worth or what they should pay for it."

This is the question Weber and three other research associates are helping to answer. Weber is working on the study in conjunction with Dr. Rolf Fare, a Swedish professor of economics at Oregon State University, Shawna Grosskopf, also at Oregon State University, and Bent Roland, assistant professor at the University of Tromso in the College of Fishery Science in Norway. Fare is a retired professor from Southern Illinois University and is a former professor of Weber's.

Fare and Grosskopf now have close ties to the issue, working with Oregon State's Coastal Marine Resources Campus, where large commercial fishing fleets dock. Weber visited that campus in April.

"The ocean is kind of a public good," Weber added. "The problem is everyone owns them. But since everyone is responsible, no one is really responsible."

Weber likens the questions to the Federal Communications Commission's licensing of the broadcast airways.

While Fare is the theoretician with this project, Weber said he is responsible for estimating the set of equations used to determine the value of the licenses. He says the water pollution caused by salmon farms, the threat of escapees from the corrals tainting the supplies of fresh water salmon, and the oil content of the farm-raised salmon are all factors he will consider in determining the licensing fee. Feed, labor and insurance are other issues to be considered as well.

Weber says he plans to visit Norway in the fall and to tour their salmon farms firsthand. He also will likely make a presentation on the topic at the University of Tromso. When he returns to Cape Girardeau, he intends to continue work on the project for at least another year.

Weber says the idea of pricing the water is expected to become more and more relevant in the coming years around the globe.

"This will be a relevant question for any fish stock for a lot of different countries," he said. "In the United States and other countries, fish stocks are declining. Wild salmon are declining because rivers have been damned, and the fish cannot spawn. So stocks are being depleted. Fish farming is becoming more and more important. Commercial stocks can help provide a substitute for declining populations on U.S. rivers such as the Columbia and the Snake."

Weber says this research is among the most interesting he has been involved with over the course of his career.

"This is one of the better topics I've had," he said. "This is a new one. It's interesting. I'm excited about it."


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