November 17, 1995

It's the Government's Fault

When I make enough money out of one little boat,

I'll put all my money in another little boat,

I'll make twice as much out of two little boats

And the first thing you know I'll have four little boats!

Then eight little boats, then a fleet of little boats!

Then a great big fleet of great, big boats,

All catching herring, bringing it to shore.

Sailing out again and bringing in more and more

And more!

Carousel(Rodgers & Hammerstein)

In response to the decimation of the New England fisheries, the federal government has placed severe restrictions on fishing. This has resulted in hard times for fishermen, many of whom have had to sell their boats.

The fishermen, as would be expected, are blaming the government for their plight. It is a typical response of people who have over harvested natural resources to the point where the resource is about to disappear. Fish, timber, water you name it-- it's all the same: We had nothing to do with the problem; it's the government.

For millennia, fisherman have made a living catching ocean fish. In our time, some have made much more than just a living. As a consequence, more fisherman entered the business. The fisherman bought more, bigger and better boats, as well as sonar fish locators. They caught more and more fish. Eventually, more fish were caught than could be replaced by new fish being born. Ho hum, so what's new? It's the same thing that happened with timber. It happened with deer and bird hunting. As a consequence, the government stepped in because, obviously, the people who deplete the resource are not going to regulate their own activities. Most believe in free enterprise; which translates as "get all that you can while you can." All of the harvesters don't have to believe that; just a few big operators.

If you look at old photographs, you will see hunters proudly standing beside their kill: hundreds of fish or birds or a large number of deer. People don't kill that many any more, because it isn't allowed. They don't remember the time when game became so scarce that the government had to step in.The impetus for hunting and fishing regulation came from the hunters and sport fishermen themselves.

The rhetoric is the same, whether it is game, commercial fishing, or timber. The endangered species is always the fisherman, the hunter, the logger. And it's true. Once the thing being harvested is decimated to the point where there is so little left that it doesn't pay to start the boat, or fuel the chain saw, no one harvests anything any more. Sometimes the resource goes the way of the passenger pigeon -it disappears. More often, it merely takes several generations before the resource builds up again. Cutting down every single large tree isn't going to end trees. It will end logging. Over fishing isn't going to end fish; only fishermen.

Some trout fishermen love fishing so much that they release their catch so that they will have fish to catch tomorrow. You won't find professional deep sea fishermen doing that. When the government requires release of small fish, many resent it.

I am tempted to say "let 'em pay the price for their avarice!" The problem is that the greedy ones rake it in and leave the next generation with nothing to harvest. Even if they blame it on the government, regulation is needed, because the next generation would blame the government for having allowed it to happen.

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