An environmental journalist turns in a somber story of vanishing fisheries and ways of life Down East.
Jumping aboard lobster boats and heading to sea, White (The Melting World: A Journey Across America’s Vanishing Glaciers, 2013, etc.) returns with an affecting report on the way humans have mismanaged marine resources. Economics is all about scarcity—and the scarcer the good in question, the more expensive it is likely to be. But in the case of the lobster, he writes, what looks to be a species in grave danger of disappearing has been overly abundant on the market, so much so that lobstermen had trouble selling their catches—which, in 2014, were six times the size of a normal year’s yield. Well, that’s the tragedy of the commons for you, or, as he puts it, “tragedy of the capitalists,” and, to trust White, it won’t continue for much longer. The supply will eventually dry up. The author examines the parallel story of the Atlantic bluefin tuna, an apex predator on the path to extinction thanks to overfishing. Some temporarily lucky lobstermen are able to extract huge numbers of shellfish from a sea fast warming and acidifying, while others, he writes, “are switching professions or moonlighting as truck drivers, telephone repairmen, and tollbooth attendants.” If there are a few stock characters in the narrative (“We’ll try to catch some lobstah—that’s my idear anyways,” says one veteran captain), there is also an obvious moral lesson: We have only so much influence over climate change at this late hour, but we must adjust our demands if food fisheries are to outlast the first half of the century. There are no shortcuts, for aquaculture doesn’t work for lobsters, and other species are dwindling alongside the crustaceans. “Does anyone ever learn from their neighbor or from the past?” White wonders. His answer is self-evident.
A solid demonstration of why those who have a taste for lobster rolls better eat up while they can.