Mike Friedman mikedf at
Tue Jan 21 14:53:29 MST 2003

Some semi-random thoughts on the fisheries issue. LTV matters, for
the simple reason that as fish become scarcer and more labor-power is
required to appropriate them, two things happen. The increased
socially-necessary production costs can be met -- if current
fisheries are any guide -- by the sale of some species as luxury
items. Or, they will be abandoned by large-scale fishing operations,
but continue to be exploited by artesanal fisheries, where
competition for the resource will continue until the species in
question is reduced to a level at which it is no longer a viable food
source. At that point, a species' continued existence depends on
individuals' ability to find mates, avoid inbreeding depression, etc.
I would note that a viable population for an inshore or estuarine
species may be totally non-viable for a pelagic species (we would say
that the "effective population size" of the former is larger, given
equal numbers).

The dynamic under capitalism, as you and others have pointed out, is
for the irrational, increased extraction of these resources as they
peter out. Governments -- even capitalist ones -- may regulate the
harvest of different species for various reasons, but the market
consistently undermines such regulation. On the one hand, where the
harvest is profitable, corporations either find ways around the
regulations or do away with them. The Japanese government's
sidestepping of international whaling accords is one example:
basically, they sponsor large-scale whaling expeditions under the
guise of "scientific research." Some of the folks in my department
have been involved in tracking the whale meat, using DNA
"fingerprints," from Japanese whalers to the market.

Then we have the case of items of popular consumption. Regulations
also protect species that are globally endangered, but are locally
important items for popular consumption, particularly given the
absence of other alternatives. Here, imperialism is the worst enemy
of endangered species, and an effective agrarian reform (leading to a
full stomach), their best friend. In our old stomping ground,
Nicaragua, I worked with some folks involved in protecting sea
turtles. Agrarian reform and environmental education provided a sound
basis for a participatory sea turtle conservation program, in which
the residents of Chococente and La Flor -- the two beaches on the
Pacific coast where the turtles nest -- protected breeding grounds,
educated the population and enforced harvest quotas and seasonal
closure. Basically, the local populations in revolutionary Nicaragua
championed the regulations as their own. However, with the
dismantling of the agrarian reform, proliferation of foreclosures,
deregulation of food prices,  etc., the local population was again
forced to exploit the turtles, and no amount of regulating can
prevent an impoverished population from doing what it has to in order
to survive (for example, see El Nuevo Diario, October 17, 2002:
The turtles -- and particularly the eggs (huevos de paslama --
remember?) are not consumed  mostly as use values, but are sold. And
to the degree that regulations exist now, they only serve to enhance
the price of turtle eggs and their attractiveness as a source of

In short, I would say that fisheries (and other) natural resources
are endangered precisely because of their appropriation as

At 2:31 PM -0500 1/21/03, marxism-digest wrote:
>into extinction. Extinction of living species and exhaustion of natural
>resources is the problem that we are grappling with right now, not ups
>and downs in the business cycle or a product line within the business cycle.
>While labor is the source of all wealth, it has to operate on nature in
>order to produce value. If a natural resource disappears, then it has
>nothing to operate on. Isn't that obvious?
>As was pointed out in the NY Times article on, unless
>drastic action is taken, we will only be able to eat planton a few
>decades from now. So it really doesn't matter if the price of swordfish
>steaks goes up or down in the next few months, based on supply and
>demand, etc. The same thing is obviously true for oil. We are not
>tracking the marketplace here, but trying to save the planet.

Michael Friedman
Ph.D. Candidate in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior
City University of New York

Molecular Laboratory
Department of Invertebrate Zoology
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY  10024
(212) 313-7646

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