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17th century British law protects rights of fishermen and local towns

It's an interesting story. It was reported by the Wall Street Journal -

Stuart Vorpahl has waged a lonely battle since 1984 against the state of New York over his right to fish. For refusing to obtain a commercial fishing license, he has been arrested at least four times, once on a dock after a police officer seized 490 pounds of fluke and two lobsters from his 40-foot trawler.

Now, others here on Long Island's East End are joining the 69-year-old Mr. Vorpahl's cause. And they are supporting his argument, based on a 313-year-old colonial-era document, called the Dongan Patent, that conferred responsibility for town land and waterways on locally elected trustees.

As the story goes on to reveal, the state wanted to impose a license and fee, in order to count fish populations. You might even assume this was a good thing, and to heck with a fisherman's ancient legal rights, if the state protected fish stocks from overfishing.

But the state doesn't always do a good job protecting common resources. Elinor Ostrom won the 2009 Nobel Prize for Economics for determining that local citizens often do a far superior job managing shared common resources such as fishing grounds.

Why doesn't the state do better? Why has it allowed the fishing grounds around Britain to be plundered? There may be many reasons. One reason is that the state is too remote to care. It has no personal interest in the fisherman or his fishing.

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