The New England river commons

H-Surroundings just lately printed Zachary Bennett’s evaluate of Erik Reardon’s Managing the River Commons: Fishing and New England’s Rural Financial system (U Mass Press, 2021). From the evaluate:

After greater than two centuries of damming and polluting their rivers, Individuals are reversing course. Dams are coming down and the migrating fish that astonished early European explorers are returning…. Though rivers are coming to resemble their pre-industrial state now greater than ever, few critical research of early American waterways exist. Erik Reardon exhibits that these struggles to protect riverine ecosystems are a lot older than river restoration advocates might have thought of…


The primary two chapters set up the significance of river fisheries in indigenous and early colonial communities, arguing that each created sustainable common-use practices to guard fish. Reardon quotes closely from different secondary sources and his arguments echo the likes of Jeffrey Bolster who’ve proven that colonists severely depleted fisheries instantly upon their arrival. Reardon successfully demonstrates that colonists each seen that decline and realized they wanted to enact conservation measures at the very least a full century earlier than industrialization.

Chapter 3 reads as a composite biography of 4 river fisherman from Maine to Rhode Island who lived on the flip of the nineteenth century…. Their lifestyle got here below appreciable risk when business fishing practices entered rivers within the nineteenth century that netted the salmon and shad on the market in distant markets and enriched an rising service provider class. Reardon exhibits that this class of farmer-fishermen in the end turned to the state to punish unsustainable fishing practices and protect rivers as conventional commons house.

Chapter 4 charts the high-water mark of yeoman resistance to business fishing and industrialization within the early nineteenth century. In contrast to the regulators or liberty males who tried to violently enact their egalitarian interpretation of the Revolution, “farmer-fishermen labored by means of established authorized channels to guard a river commons outlined by open and equal entry and honest distribution of fish sources” (p. 74). By inspecting petitions despatched to state legislatures, Reardon identifies a proto-environmentalist motion straining to protect pure sources central to their financial lives. Sadly, the laws that resulted from these efforts have been experimental, inconsistent, and susceptible to depend on native regulation. Though a lot time is spent on describing these insurance policies, Reardon fails to point out that farmer-fishermen loved common assist or have been profitable in reversing declining river fishery shares.

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