Lobster Trap Limits: A Solution to a Communal Action Problem

By Acheson, James M. | Human Organization, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Lobster Trap Limits: A Solution to a Communal Action Problem


Acheson, James M., Human Organization


Most major fisheries of the world are becoming depleted, largely by human over-exploitation. The basic problem is that fishers cannot or will not generate rules to conserve the resources upon which their livelihood depends. They are unable to solve this communal action dilemma although all would gain. Some fisher groups have been able to establish conservation-oriented guidelines either by lobbying the state (a centralized solution) or by generating self-imposed rules (a decentralized solution). We analyze the factors that allow lobster fishers on four Maine islands to benefit from self-imposed trap limits while most other lobster fishers must await decisions of the state legislature. It is argued that Knight's bargaining theory of norm development explains the trap limit. At root, trap limit rules are the result of a distributional fight over the resource. However, a number of other factors are necessary for fishers to constrain themselves informally. This case modifies and extends the use of rational choice theory in understanding the generation of rules for conserving resources.

Key words: lobster industry, rational choice, local level management; US, Maine

One of the key issues facing resource management is the conditions under which people erect effective and workable rules to conserve the resources on which their livelihoods depend. All too often, natural resources are overexploited. Globally, forests, fish stocks, wildlife, air, soils, and water quality have all declined in recent decades in large part as a result of human abuse. However, resource degradation is not inevitable. Recently, a number of cases have come to light in which resource users have generated effective conservation rules informally at the local level or by approaching governmental authorities (e.g., Anderson and Simmons 1993; Berkes 1989; McCay and Acheson 1987; Pinkerton 1989; Ruddle and Akimichi 1984). What is unclear is why resource users select one strategy over the other, or indeed when they will generate rules at all. This article attempts to address these questions by analyzing the efforts of the Maine lobster fishery to impose a trap limit. The conditions under which fishermen will support efforts to generate conservation rules is an important question in a time when many of the world's major fisheries are in a state of crisis (Acheson and Wilson 1996; McGoodwin 1990).

The Maine lobster fishery has had unusual success in developing conservation rules. Most notably, in the 1870s and 1880s it lobbied successfully for size limitations and a ban on taking egged females; in 1933, it played an important role in getting the Maine Legislature to pass the "double gauge law" specifying a minimum and maximum size limit (Acheson 1996). In 1948, the "V-Notch" law was passed allowing all fishermen to voluntarily mark egged females with a notch in the tail. These females may never be taken. In 1978, the Maine Lobstermen's Association was instrumental in getting an escape vent law passed. These conservation laws have contributed to maintaining high, stable catch levels since 1947 (Acheson 1996).1

However, since the 1950s the lobster industry has run into substantial obstacles in its repeated attempts to get a trap limit through legislation.2 All bills have been defeated except for one bill passed in 1995 limiting a license holder to a maximum of 1200 traps. However, in earlier decades the fishermen of four Maine island communities developed trap limits for themselves. In two cases these limits have been completely informal "gentlemen's agreements." Two other island communities have agreed on trap limits and have had them formalized by the State of Maine.3 The question these cases raise is: Why have the four island communities been able to provide themselves with trap limit regulations when the vast majority of Maine communities have had no recourse but to endure the frustrating process of repeatedly approaching the Legislature?

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Lobster Trap Limits: A Solution to a Communal Action Problem
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.