The Tragedy of the commons causes empty fishing nets.

A Big Shrimp Problem

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Dec 24, 2013    •    860 Views

Because of the holiday, our Wednesday environment blog will appear today. The post has been written by 2 Kent Place students, Megan Ganning and Madeleine Vance.

“Sorry, Sir, but the ‘Bay Shrimp’ have actually had to be taken off the menu” will be the words of waiters around the world after the recent closure of New England shrimp fisheries.

Recently, the shrimp fishing season was shut down this winter for the first time in 35 years. Loose regulations, high predation rates, overfishing, and warmer oceans are all contributing to why many fisherman will be left jobless this winter. However, the Bay Shrimp fishing nets and fishermen’s pockets are not the only things that will be empty. The overseas market demand for these shrimp will be gone. Many small fishing businesses rely heavily on the overseas business from countries such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Denmark. Without European economic support, many New England fisheries could go out of business in the short term.

While these economic losses may seem bad now, the moratorium declared by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will be beneficial in the long term. The temporary ban of shrimp fishing will allow time for populations to recover and regulations to be set in place to prevent the future exploitation of Bay Shrimp. In the past, strict regulations have been successful in preventing the decline of species and populations.

The moratorium will also affect other species. Harming the biodiversity of aquatic communities, overfishing affects entire ecosystems. Any population that relies on the Bay Shrimp as food or resources will be negatively affected from this population decrease.

Economists say that overfishing is an example of the tragedy of the commons. Elinor Ostrom, the first and only woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, researched the tragedy of the commons. The economic concept explains how resources that are not privately owned can become overused because of their wide accessibility. Resources like air, water, shared refrigerators and bay shrimp are all subject to this abuse because they are not owned by one individual or party, but open to the public. Free to collect as many bay shrimp as they were able to fish, fishermen depleted the supply.

The tragedy of the commons is the reason that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has banned shrimp fishing completely for the time being. It also explains why humans have over harvested many crops and brought animal species to near extinction.

Sources and resources: The sources of our facts were an NPR report and a Journal Tribune article.


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