Mar 062015
 
Boettger

Rick Boettger

by Rick Boettger…

A common small-town practice in olden days was grazing cows in the town common. If every family grazed one cow, there would be enough grass to support all. But if enough people grazed more cows, the pasture would collapse, and no one could graze his cow. It is such a major problem that it has earned the name Tragedy of the Commons. It’s happening right now here in the Keys, with the Key West City Commission voting 4-3 to allow more grazing, I mean fishing, while our Chambers of Commerce are deeply conflicted.

The general principle is that when a common renewable resource is owned by no one but is accessible to all, it’s in each individual’s self-interest to grab as much of the resource for himself as he can. But it is a tragedy for all when taking too much stops the resource from renewing itself. Then everyone gets nothing.

The point is short-term riches versus long-term steady income. A widespread test of toddlers shows that kids who can resist the chance to have a single cookie right now because if they wait 15 minutes they will get two cookies then shows that the ones with restraint tend to be much more successful as adults. Not getting everything you can NOW is hard. Deferred rewards are hard to wait for, but mark the successful in life.

The Keys are facing the tragedy again. Nationally, the U.S. has made amazing strides since the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act. After WWII, fishing industry leaders from regions like New England, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska had seen proof that modern fishing methods could deplete oceans that once seemed inexhaustible. Cod off Newfoundland, sardines off Monterey, blue walleye in the Great Lakes, sole off the English Isles, anchovies off Peru, etc.

The fishing industry turned to their representatives in Congress to bring the rule of law to at least our oceans. In 1976 the United States took charge of everything in the world’s largest exclusive economic zone: our 3.4 million square miles of sea. A generation of determined, farsighted commercial and recreational fishermen, marine scientists, and legislators worked together to create our Fisheries Act.

They brought to it practical lessons based on principles that are simple and sound. They believed that the nation’s rich fishing grounds could feed generations of Americans far into the future, but only if catches were well-controlled. Many of them, fishermen and scientists, knew that it would pay off to leave enough fish in the water to regenerate healthy stocks in the future.

Nationally, it has worked. In Alaska, seafood exports increased 150% in the first decade of this century; Atlantic sea scallops have quintupled since their near collapse in the 1990s to now be half a billion dollars, the top-valued fishery in the U.S.; red snapper quotas are increasing every year in the gulf; and 33 commercial fish and shellfish stocks have been rebuilt off U.S. shores since 2001: silver hake, lingcod, blue crab, winter flounder, black sea bass, Pollock, Acadian redfish, etc.—the names are music to my ears.

But not off our Keys. On the internet, we’re famous for seeing our trophy fish catch decline from an average of 44 pounds each in 1956 to five pounds in 2007. While the U.S. was protecting our fish and watching species get rebuilt and fishermen prosper as sustainability was achieved, we have been eating the seed corn The I-want-my-cookie-NOW crowd is grazing the common down to the earth, hauling in the mommy fish, tragically.

When I first moved here, I was invited out on an overnight spearfishing trip with a friendly bunch of Conch officers of the law. I saw them spear dozens of tiny hogfish, joking about how small they were in front of their 12-year-old sons. I did not move to Panama in 2006 with Cynthia in large part because they were serving short lobsters at restaurants, while complaining that there were fewer and fewer of them (Panama then had no restrictions on fish size or number).

Tony, Billy, Clayton, and Mark, yes, your people want to put an extra cow on the common. Yes, their families need the milk. Yes, it is hard to make a buck today already by fishing the seas. But that is in large part because since 1956 we have been catching all of the big fish and small hogs we can, and those big and small fish have not lived to create babies that, grown, our current commercial and sport fishermen could catch.

Don’t eat the seed corn. Don’t eat lady lobsters full of eggs. Wait 15 minutes for the two cookies. Think of the children of today’s fishermen. When you vote, gentlemen, vote for the future, not the continuation of our internet shame since 1956.

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Rick Boettger

Rick Boettger had a Top Secret security clearance in the Army and studied nuclear chemistry at MIT and law at Yale before getting a PhD in business at Berkeley. He earned tenure as a business professor at TCU in Fort Worth before going to Moscow as a Fulbright Professor, writing a book on the economy, hosting a semi-national talk radio show, and retiring to Key West in 1996 at the age of 48. Since then he has worked part-time as a tax and financial advisor, and has been doing investigative journalism since he began at the Blue Paper in 2007​. He is very happily married to his superb copy-editor Cynthia Edwards, the former long-time PIO for the Key West Police Department.


 March 6, 2015  Posted by at 1:46 am Issue #104, Rick Boettger, Water World  Add comments

  6 Responses to “The Tragedy of the Ocean”

  1. Rick,

    Mother Earth, the organism of which we are a part of, and dependent upon for our lives; has endured much violence. Resourceful management of the creatures that fall under our domain has been lacking for a very long time.

    Sustaining the health of the planet is not a priority. Our indulgent and narcissistic natures have manifested themselves in our leadership and those that work the oceans.

    Thank you for another well-written, thoughtful and beautifully constructed article.

    Blessings & Respect…

  2. Rick, It looks like we are on the same topic this week. I also wrote about the “I-want-my-cookie-NOW crowd”, but in a different light. All so true and obvious to anyone with a brain. If you stop killing things for awhile there will be more things to kill later. If you kill everything now there will be nothing later. Bloody elementary.

  3. Alex – ya gotta remember, parents and schools aren’t what they used to be. “Elementary” is way above the heads of people today.

  4. Interestingly the city commission just voted to tell congress not to interfere with the local fisheries via the sanctuaries. Even though the local environmental scientists explained they was no new action being taken, they were just conducting studies to see if action needed to be taken or not.

  5. Upon suffering the intrusion of pernicious libel and unjustifiable asperity from one of your own, who slithered beneath the nadir of civility and comportment to engage in the odious prosecution of race baiting, the deafening silence of your condemnation has now become the frame that defines each of your character.

    Not a single one of you “intellectually enlightened, progressive, spiritual, worldly” men of “conscience” could countenance supporting an adversary, and repudiating a colleague of sorts, despite the egregious use of vitriol and acrimonious pejorative labeling.

    Shame to all of you.

    This week I purposely did not comment on any of the regular contributors articles. As I write this, there are 41 total comments on said articles. Of those 41 comments, only 5 are from people not named Shaquille, Symington, Adler, Donnelly, or Grapel. Upon suffering the intrusion of pernicious libel and unjustifiable asperity from one of

    As I prognosticated several times now, if it weren’t for my participation, and driving the conversation, you guys would be devoid of commentary and reduced to commenting on each others articles to garner any involvement in your work. The self-congratulation and mutual back slapping for your self-proclaimed literary genius is hilarious.

    Or are my “facts” wrong?

  6. Upon suffering the intrusion of pernicious libel and unjustifiable asperity from one of your own, who slithered beneath the nadir of civility and comportment to engage in the odious prosecution of race baiting, the deafening silence of your condemnation has now become the frame that defines each of your character.

    Not a single one of you “intellectually enlightened, progressive, spiritual, worldly” men of “conscience” could countenance supporting an adversary, and repudiating a colleague of sorts, despite the egregious use of vitriol and acrimonious pejorative labeling.

    Shame to all of you.

    This week I purposely did not comment on any of the regular contributors articles. As I write this, there are 41 total comments on said articles. Of those 41 comments, only 5 are from people not named Shaquille, Symington, Adler, Donnelly, or Grapel.

    As I prognosticated several times now, if it weren’t for my participation, and driving the conversation, you guys would be devoid of commentary and reduced to commenting on each others articles to garner any involvement in your work. The self-congratulation and mutual back slapping for your self-proclaimed literary genius is hilarious.

    Or are my “facts” wrong?