This paper discusses how institutions of the political economy define and condition the ways in which people think about natural resources and the environment, including cases of environmental collapse. The talk considers two fisheries crises in very different political-economic contexts – that of the Norwegian spring-spawning herring in 1968-69 and the Peruvian anchoveta in 1972-73. Both events are now remembered as major collapses in the fisheries that led to significant changes in the way the fisheries were studied, exploited and administered. I am interested in how these cases of falling fishing yields came to be considered collapses and the different frameworks through which the collapses were interpreted. They were both cases of crisis, but crisis of what? The two materially similar events were experienced in fundamentally different ways. This was crucial in determining how the state and the fishing industry responded. In both cases, natural resources crisis prodded the state to take a greater, yet different, role in the fishing industry than it had hitherto assumed. The experience of collapse is, therefore, crucial for understanding how fisheries have been nationalized and privatized over the last 40 years.