Common pool resources and the Firth of Clyde

Yesterday I was at a meeting in Campbeltown called by the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Trust (SIFT) at which were gathered fishing boat skippers, community activists and local tradition bearers. It proved to be a heated meeting, but ended in mutual respect (I hope).

The Trust has chosen the Firth of Clyde as its main project and come up with the slogan “Revive the Clyde”. Everyone round the table agreed with it, though reasons for the decline in fish stocks varied. Over-fishing was accepted as a reason, but others were sited, including more pollution, less pollution (in this case sewage being pumped in – fish will happily eat sewage), more fresh water and an increase in the seal population.

One reason, however, jumped straight out to me when it was mentioned. Apparently there used to be a gentleman’s agreement amongst all fishermen – trawlers, creelers and others – that there was to be no fishing at weekends. This agreement has now broken down with the creelers working 24/7 (this from the trawlermen). This immediately reminded me of Elinor Ostrom, the acclaimed Californian academic.

Layout 1


Now, what has a Californian academic got to do with the Firth of Clyde? Well, she conducted extensive research amongst tribal and indigenous peoples and found that they sustainably managed resources – fish, shellfish, timber etc according to a set of “design principles” which resulted in stable local common pool resource management:

Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties);

Rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources that are adapted to local conditions;

Collective-choice arrangements that allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process;

Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators;

A scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules;

Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access;

Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities; and

In the case of larger common-pool resources, organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local common pool resources at the base level. (source- Wikipedia)

The “gentlemen’s agreement” in the Clyde suggest that a number of the above principles were once followed, but by no means all of them, and this is why the agreement broke down and contributed to the decline in stocks.

When I came across these principles it revived in me a hope that we could live on our planet sustainably. This hope had all but been eradicated by the so-called “Tragedy of the Commons” which argues that resources deemed to be held in common, like the world’s fisheries, are doomed to collapse because no one is capable of taking responsibility.  The blame for decline is always shifted onto someone else.

Ostrom’s research proved that another way is possible, and I will be engaging with SIFT and the community of my local bioregion – which forms the western boundary to the Clyde – to ensure that the Clyde is revived.


diver 80x80

About edwardtyler

I live in Kintyre, the long peninsula acting as a natural breakwater for the Firth of Clyde, west of Glasgow. A Permaculture and Transition practitioner, I am working with fellow community activists to co-create a resilient and vibrant local bioregion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: