Sustainability and sharks

At the end of June I spent a few days on the south coast of Rhode Island. Those of you who might be tempted to look at a map would be forgiven for thinking that Rhode Island is in fact just a coast and not a very long one at that. The southern and northern bits are separated by a few dozen miles, but are otherwise pretty much cheek by jowl. While I was there I shepherded my boarders and some of their friends on a tour of the Galilee’s docks. That’s not a euphemism, it’s a place.

You’ll not be surprised to hear that we saw and smelled lots of intense things: 40 gallon barrels full of chum (skates), man-high stacks of bagged salt, rope that had been dragged along the ocean bottom and of course grimy working boats. I also had the opportunity to speak with a fisherman who told us to take a good look, as the gubmint was shutting his industry down. I’d expect that the outrageous over-fishing has had nothing to do with it and the invisible hand of the free market would clear this right up, I through some tea bags into the water in his honor. Delusions of sustainability are not confined to the ocean state.

I recently spent a week on a lovely island south of Massachusetts famed as the summer vacation home of our president. I did not speak with any working fisherfolk out on the “vineyard.” There are some, as I saw their boats, but I imagine it is even harder to survive where the cost of living is 57% higher than the national average (Martha’s Vineyard Times, 2007).

Fishing isn’t the only non-sustainable activity on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. There’s not much that is. A few valiant attempts are made by farmers like those at the Farm Institute (, but really it’s difficult to escape the fact that virtually everything must come on a ferry from the mainland.

Witness the price of a gallon of gas: about a dollar more than on the mainland. Oddly, beer doesn’t cost that much more. One wonders if it costs that much more to transport gasoline than beer. Pondering these costs I realized that much of the oil we consume already has been on a boat across the ocean. Actually that’s true for a good percentage of the produce at the grocery store even in the Valley.

The dependence of the island on that floating connection to the mainland is obvious because you can see it and hear it when the ferry blows its horn. Nevertheless, most of us depend on extended supply lines and would be up the creek without them. We have the advantage of not being surrounded by sharks.

Sharks have been returning to the waters around Cape Cod because of the resurgence in seal populations. Or that’s what they tell us anyway. I wonder if they’re actually coming back because humans are beginning to look more like seals. I guess that when the ferry stops running, we’ll thin up pretty quick.

Caleb Rounds

Author: Caleb Rounds

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