April 27, 2010

The Overt Fishiness of Government

Justin Katz

A recent column by Mark Patinkin profiling a Rhode Island fisherman contains this unsurprising gem:

After each haul, [Niles Pearsall] has to painstakingly throw back restricted fish — sometimes half or more of what the nets haul up. The irony is that many are dead anyway. He said it's like throwing $20 bills into the sea. ...

He claimed there are two reasons the government has it wrong. First, the rules are out of date. And second, he said, government test boats dragged areas incompetently, came up with few fish and decided that meant they were scarce. Pearsall says more seasoned fishermen dragged the same areas and came up with full nets — lately more than ever.

Government does have a role in ensuring that self interest doesn't drive the total draining of natural resources. The problem is that, when it becomes too big and its purview too broad, the democratic feedback loop cannot function. The only way public bureaucracy can even come close to managing various interests related to a particular industry is if political forces put knowledgeable people in the right positions with incentive to balance the claims of various parties.

But who's going to pressure politicians on behalf of fishermen when we're having to pressure them to manage our healthcare reasonably?

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Ask a recreational angler some time about how federal management of the striped bass fishery has worked out. I'm old enough to remember when catching a striper was a bit of "fluke" (I was working in the charter fishing industry at the time). Or on that note maybe ask a recreational angler how many keeper fluke are being caught compared to the 1980s. I feel for the commercial guys, but he's feeding Patinkin a "line."

I'd add that his claim that fish are now plentiful would appear to indicate that the restrictions are working, hardly a case for repeal. And if half his haul is bycatch, perhaps he should reconsider his methods.

Who's going to pressure politicians on behalf of fishermen [sic]? Me and the millions of other recreational anglers and related businesses.

Posted by: Russ at April 28, 2010 3:44 PM
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