The Gadus Commons

William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts for much of the first half of the 1600s, from whom North Americans  have inherited the notion of  communal Thanksgiving (and incidentally my grandfather 26 generations removed) noted:

The major part [of the Pilgrims] inclined to go to Plymouth chiefly for the hope of present profit to be made by the fish that was found in that country (Cod; 67).

Fast forward a few centuries.  Bottom trawling, longlining, and gillnetting during the 19th and 20th Centuries were probably the most responsible for cod’s population decline in North America. Faced with the same great abundance that had helped bring settlers to Cape Cod, huge fishing companies acted rationally to maximize their own gain, taking advantage of the bountiful commons, and this led to ruin. With the near disappearance of cod came the absence of herring, capelin, humpback whales, and squid. Continue reading