Erik Loomis is a progressive, a native Oregonian and a professor of history at the University of Rhode Island focusing on the Civil War era as well as labor and environmental history. He also blogs for and you can follow him on twitter @ErikLoomis.

5 responses to “The End of Cod: RI Loses A Natural Resource Economy”

  1. Barry

    Seems to me the fishing industry spokesman is engaging in wishful thinking if he thinks there is so much fish – unless I’ve been misled when I read that there was so little cod they couldn’t even catch their old quota.

    Its the nature of of a common resource to get over-expolited. Any rational fisherman would reason, its best to get as many fish as possible since if I don’t, someone else will.  But every other fisherman will reason the same way.  Hence the resource gets depleted.  (better explained in the essay “tragedy of the commons”)   This has actually happened over and over again with fisheries.  Appeal to conscience cannot work, it only would put those with a conscience at a disadvantage.  The only solution is agreed upon coercion for all.  In this case some additional assistance to the industry and their community would seem warranted as well as efforts to  reduce polluting runoff, protect estuaries… 

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    1. turbo

      “better explained in the essay “tragedy of the commons”” Not so. The tragedy of the commons–understood as both Hardin’s essay and the common phrase–is a nearly nonsensical concept. It’s a notion that Hardin made up through a thought experiment, without any empirical research whatsoever. Furthermore, the parameters he established for his thought experiment are impossibe to reproduce in the real world.

      The tragedy of the commons is actually an extremely difficult phenomenon to produce and, in fact, never occurs along the precise lines Hardin described.

      In the real world, fishermen do not behave as rational actors independent of each other with no communication among themselves and with no systems of governance. Generally speaking, when fishermen realize that their practices are depleting their resources, they get together and figure out some way to manage themselves.

      When you see common pool resources depleted, you can almost always blame the irrational behavior of other institutions, like markets or governments. Markets, for example, try to force fishermen to behave as so-called rational actors, because manipulating fishermen into these ultimately destructive and self-destructive practices results in short-term increases in profits for large firms–an irrational act in the end.

      If you want to learn how fisheries can–and do–act to sustain themselves in the real world and if you want to learn how other institutions can undermine their efforts in the real world, then I recommend the work of Elinor Ostrom. Ostrom studied actual use of common pool resources and articulated the principles and practices used to sustain them, which are many and varied. Her work was much more difficult to do than that of dreaming up a metaphor, but that’s the facts of life: if you want to keep fisheries alive, you have to do more than lie back and run a thought experiment. You have to get your hands dirty. Just ask the fishermen.

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  2. leftyrite

    This is where justice, or even the reasonable perception of justice comes in.

    Just as government has a proper, balanced role to play in regulation, it also has a proper, balanced obligation to labor, in this case, fishermen.

    Too many people feel, with some justification, that they have been kicked to the curb by broken leadership. An then, somehow rendered invisible.

    The counterintuitive fix is to work even deeply on the political front in order to change things.

    The intuitive response, which we see often, is to become hateful and cynical.

    How does a collective negative psych bode for the future of a world that is sinking ever more deeply into resource depletion?

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  3. DogDiesel

    if you want to keep fisheries alive, you have to do more than lie back and run a thought experiment. You have to get your hands dirty. Just ask the fishermen”

    Do the fishermen have a plan? When the stripers began to decline, the restrictions helped bring them back. Why hasn’t that helped with cod if you know?

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    1. turbo

      “Why hasn’t that helped with cod if you know?

      It has in some places.

      But the real problem is the market and the big firms that dominate it. What has killed the cod is the market for processed cod, which demands so much fish that certain outfits can make profits on huge, constantly working trawlers. This market is the distorting institution here.

      “Do the fishermen have a plan?”

      It depends on who you consider to be fishermen. I think it’s okay to say that the people who work small fishing operations are fishermen, while the people who operate the factory-style vessels are something else. To listen to fishermen, you have to put the other guys out of work.

      In short, we need to put the largest operations out of business and then let the smaller operations lead the way on managing the industry.

      To put it most bluntly, we need to outlaw fishsticks.

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