Technology and competition in the tuna industry

Roger Lyman Corey, University of Rhode Island


This economic history of the U.S. tuna industry focuses on the industry's technological and structural development during the last half century. Important technological changes include the growth in scale and complexity of the baitboat, the emergence of the modern tuna purse seiner, and the growth in scale of canneries. Important structural changes include the industry's early evolution from a competitive industry spun off from the sardine industry, to a tight vertically integrated oligopoly by WWII, to a weak unintegrated oligopoly today. Also examined are the roles of government policies and other institutions, the growth of foreign competition, imports, and industry globalization. A brief examination of the evolution of the 20th-century Japanese tuna industry enables a comparison with the development of its U.S. rival.^ Of special interest in the study is the question as to whether there is a causal link between the tuna industry's technological and structural evolution. That is, has the industry's technological evolution been shaped by its structural and competitive evolution, and vice versa? The general hypothesis of a link between technological change and competition has a long history, dating at least from the classical and Marxian economists, through to today's game theorists and modern institutionalists. Particular attention is paid to the hypotheses developed by Joseph Schumpeter, who most forcefully set forth the argument that imperfect competition is necessary (if not sufficient) for technological advance in a capitalist economy. The author also contributes some preliminary work on a dynamic isoquant that can be used to examine the replacement of old technology with new technology. The intuitive implications of these various theories and views concerning the technology-competition link are examined for their relevance and usefulness in explaining observed events in the tuna industry. The author concludes that there is sufficient support for the hypothesized link in the tuna industry, on the basis of an array of consistencies between the theories' implications and observed events in the tuna industry's history. ^

Subject Area

Economics, General|Economics, History

Recommended Citation

Roger Lyman Corey, "Technology and competition in the tuna industry" (1993). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9316574.