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Ronan's report

Sunday December 17th, 2006

So who's fish are they, anyway? Everybody's. Right? We all know that, even in places where the ownership of things like fish and game is still pretty much the same deal as it was five hundred years ago. Back in the feudal! days in Europe, the big landowners owned everything on their land, even the people that lived there. In the nineteenth century, the British feudal landlords decided to get rid of most of the pesky peasants on their estates and cleared them off to relatively empty places Canada, New Zealand and Australia, to make room for more valuable assets like deer and salmon, and sheep. They may not have thought much of their local folk, but there was no doubt in the minds of those old boys how valuable fish and game were.

Most people these days, barring a handful of diehard European gentry, don't regard wild animals as something that anyone can actually 'own'. In the 'new world' countries, where all the peasant riff raff were shipped off to, the new residents made sure that no one was going to claim the wild fish and game for themselves, and pronounced that all wild animals a public resource. Everyone 'owns' the wild trout that swim in North America and New Zealand. You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you, but, nope. There are still plenty of people out there who just can't sleep at night thinking about someone else catching 'their' fish. And they aren't always the guys in the tweed underpants.

This proprietary impulse takes several forms, the trickiest are the ones disguised as 'freedoms' and 'rights'. Everyone is always very clear on their 'right' to do things, like the right to fish anywhere they want, but not always so scrupulous when it comes to protecting others' rights to do the same. Private property is one of those areas where 'rights' get kind of blurred. Some people are pretty quick to extend those rights of ownership to cover things that, in fact, still belong to everyone. Especially when it involves making a living. Commercial fishing is a case in point. The commercial guys are always bleating about freedom and subsidies and their need to pay the mortgage - while they systematically wipe out all the fish in all the world's oceans.

But selfishness shows up in other forms too. Next time you hear a claim to the right to fish somewhere, or an argument to 'limit the pressure' - sometimes couched in the most resounding democratic language and expressions of concern for the preservation and welfare of the fish and environment, and usually arguing for the good of the economy and the right for folks to make a living in the way they choose - just take a hard look at what might only be a cunning move to stitch up a little bit of paradise for themselves. You can't really blame people for doing this when everything is disappearing so fast, but sometimes the hardest thing to get our heads around is the necessity to share. The thing has limits, and needs limits, because there's not enough of it left to give everyone what they want. Democracy is a hard thing to enforce, and depends on generosity and altruism in order to work, but its underlying principle is a simple one - it's called fairness.


Pic Of Day Riverrocks

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