Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Catch 22 of the Day: A Fishing Industry That Destroyed Itself

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Catch 22 of the Day: A Fishing Industry That Destroyed Itself

Article excerpt

For centuries one of the great fishing areas of the world was the Georges Bank, in the Atlantic off the New England coast. Over the past 20 years, as the catch declined, commercial fishermen resisted limitations. Now, so few cod and haddock and flounder are left that they may not be able to revive in significant numbers.

Two weeks before Christmas, the National Marine Fisheries Service closed much of the Georges Bank to fishing. Anguished local fishermen complained that the government should have stopped the overfishing long ago. Some said they should be paid now for not fishing.

In that story we can see the Catch-22 of so many environmental problems. As individuals, even those who would benefit from conservation of resources are often unable or unwilling to act. After all, why should I be public-spirited if others will go on plundering? But the end result is to deprive all of their livelihood.

All around the world, once-rich fishing grounds have been depleted. Unless not only fishermen but national governments can overcome the sense of their immediate self-interest and join in conservation efforts, the stock of fish for everyone will approach what scientists call "commercial extinction."

It is not only fish. Again and again, in America and elsewhere, there is a conflict between what individuals may understandably perceive as their interest and the larger interest of themselves and the society.

Grazing on federal land in the American West is another acute current example. Private ranchers graze their sheep and cattle on 270 million acres of public land, paying fees far lower than the cost of private ranges: indeed, derisively low, just $1.98 a month for a cow and her calf.

The low cost is an invitation for ranchers to try to graze more animals than the land will support. It is mostly dry country, and overgrazing can turn grassland into desert.

From the start of the Clinton administration, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has tried to raise grazing fees. He has also proposed environmental rules that would restore 100,000 overgrazed acres of land along streams and 20 million acres elsewhere. …

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