Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Share & Share Alike

"The eldest of the fishermen, Memo, rubs his grizzled chin in somber recollection, for one of our students has just asked a pointed and painful question: Which species have disappeared in his lifetime?

Solemnly, as though he’s reciting the names of his own deceased ancestors, Memo begins: the sea cucumbers, the fan clam, the lion’s paw scallop . . . . He’s working his way back in time, I think, moving from the most recently vanished toward the creatures that disappeared when he was a child.

In the early ’90s, he reaches the sharks; in the ’70s, the sea turtles; in the ’60s, the giant sea bass; and in the years of his childhood, the great totoaba, a six-foot croaker that was once pulled from these waters by the million."


The author, Aaron Hirsh, goes on to speak eloquently about the Sole Owner and the art of sustainability.

"If a fish population is controlled by a single, perfectly rational agent — an idealized entity economists refer to as “the sole owner” — he or she will manage it to maximize its total value over time. For almost every population, that means leaving a lot of fish in the water, where they can continue to make young fish. The sole owner, then, will cautiously withdraw the biological equivalent of interest, without reducing the capital — the healthy population that remains in the sea.

But if the fish population is available to many independent parties, competition becomes a driving concern. If I don’t extract as much as I can today, there’s no guarantee you won’t take everything tomorrow. Sure, in a perfect world, you and I would trust each other, exercise restraint, and in the long run, grow wealthier for it, but I’d better just play it safe and get those fish before you do. The race for fish ensues, and soon, the tragedy of the commons has struck."


Add to this the radical notion of leaving some of the big ones to breed could bring back the fish stocks sooner than later. Click here to see why.
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