Measuring the “lucky skipper” effect

  • Bo Poulsen

Press/Media: Press / Media

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Analysis of 300 years of fishing records has confirmed the existence of a statistically significant “lucky skipper” effect. The Dutch dominated the herring fishing from 1550 to 1700 and many attempts were made by other European countries to emulate their success. With comparable boats and equipment, they didn’t come close. The power of tradition, collaboration, and what some consider as luck, should be considered in modern fisheries management, said Professor Bo Poulsen, an environmental historian at Roskilde University in Denmark. He and ecologist professor Gary Banta have evaluated over 300 years of European fisheries records and shown that about ten percent of skippers were “lucky” and consistently achieved much higher catches than others. “It is not luck actually, but skill, however in many anthropological studies there is this notion of the ‘lucky skipper’ as someone who is particularly blessed in fishing,” said Professor Poulsen. There is evidence of the phenomenon today and it has been argued, particularly by Icelandic researchers, that lucky skippers may not be more skilled; just being perceived as lucky attracts better crew and improves their success. Professor Poulsen’s data shows that early in their careers, skippers take more risks and their catches are consequently more variable than older skippers who may not get the biggest catches, but nonetheless don’t return empty-handed. “I don’t envisage giving particular fishermen a handicap, like in golf,” said Professor Poulsen. “Usually you set a quota per horsepower or per boat. That is typical of Europe but if we also know what the average human factors are that make a difference, it would be a better way of setting the right fishing pressure.” The Dutch success eventually had a down side, easily visible in hindsight, says Professor Poulsen. The fishermen, with such a strong tradition of success, were slow to change their perceptions about best practice as the fishery declined and, rather than continuing to emulating them, others developed innovative and more successful approaches to herring fishing.
Period26 Feb 2010

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  • TitleMeasuring the “lucky skipper” effect
    Date26/02/2010
    PersonsBo Poulsen