Managing the River Commons
Fishing and New England's Rural Economy
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
New England once hosted large numbers of anadromous fish, which migrate between rivers and the sea. Salmon, shad, and alewives served a variety of functions within the region's preindustrial landscape, furnishing not only maritime areas but also agricultural communities with an important source of nutrition and a valued article of rural exchange.
Historian Erik Reardon argues that to protect these fish, New England's farmer-fishermen pushed for conservation measures to limit commercial fishing and industrial uses of the river. Beginning in the colonial period and continuing to the mid-nineteenth century, they advocated for fishing regulations to promote sustainable returns, compelled local millers to open their dams during seasonal fish runs, and defeated corporate proposals to erect large-scale dams. As environmentalists work to restore rivers in New England and beyond in the present day, Managing the River Commons offers important lessons about historical conservation efforts that can help guide current campaigns to remove dams and allow anadromous fish to reclaim these waters.
“Reardon persuasively argues for the importance of river fish for the ecology of the watershed, Native Americans, and early settlers. He also makes a case for their importance to the world today.”—John T. Cumbler, author of Cape Cod: An Environmental History of a Fragile Ecosystem
“Managing the River Commons shows how central river fish were to rural/agrarian New England prior to industrialization and how farmer-fishermen sought conservation and sustainable resource use. It goes beyond this by suggesting that river restoration in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century shares a basic environmental ethos with those farmer-fishermen of preindustrial New England.”—Brian J. Payne, author of Fishing a Borderless Sea: Environmental Territorialism in the North Atlantic, 1818–1910