Env-Econ Book Review: The Fishermen and the Dragon

I just finished reading Kirk Wallace Johnson’s The Fishermen and the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast. Here’s my book review (from the view of an Environmental Economist of course).

The Fishermen and the Dragon tells the true story of the evolution of the Texas Gulf Coast crab and shrimp fisheries in the post-Vietnam era. The era is important to the story because tension builds along the Texas coast when post-war Vietnamese refugees locate to the Gulf Coast creating economic competition and (racial) tension between the existing anglers and the refugees. The racial tensions play out against the backdrop of the encroachment of the Ku Klux Klan into post-war political asylum issues and the the environmental problems that come along with rapid industrialization of the Gulf Coast. 

So why would an environmental economist care? Honestly the story has a bit of everything: Tragedy of the commons, Coasian bargaining, Ostrom-like institutional building, credible (and incredible) threats, industrial organization, the role of government in regulating the commons, natural resource damages (oil spills), environmental and health externalities, social and environmental justice. 

Part Erin Brokovich (an initially reluctant environmental crusader), part John Grisham-like southern legal thriller tinged with undertones of racism, part Pat Conroy-like description of the hardships of coastal life, this true story reads like a popular fiction thriller.

If I have one complaint, it would be that there is a slight disjoint between the story of race tensions between the refugees and local fishers, and the story of corporate greed and environmental disaster. There is overlap in the main characters, but stories seem to be separated in both time and presentation.

Nevertheless, a good read with Env-Econ lessons abound. 

I give it a solid four out of five beers raised.


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