The Fishy Politics of Fisheries

John Kerry and seven other senators from the northeast have sent a letter to President Obama asking for millions to buy out fishermen who have been forced into dire circumstances by our government. 

Kerry's plan would use $100M to buy boats and government permits from fishermen, ostensibly to reduce fishing capacity and thus relieve the pressure on fish stocks. This is poppycock!

There is no need to further reduce the pressure on fish stocks. Obama's handpicked ecozealot, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, administrator of NOAA and former bigwig at the Environmental Defense Fund, has personally driven fisherman allocations drastically below those levels that even her own scientists say are sufficient to sustain and allow growth of the stocks. Dr. Lubchenco wants the industry to shrink. She envisions a fixed number of catch share permits allocated within a small community of fishing boats. Let the fittest fishermen survive. 

Kerry would remove permits as he removes fishermen, driving the industry to extinction. Way to go, John.

Let's explore what will happen when Kerry and company buy out a fisherman. First, the boat owner will get a bucket of money for his boat and his permits. The boat will be destroyed and the catch shares permits retired. This will indeed reduce capacity. 

Will the bucket of money that the owner gets be big enough to pay off his debts and carry him for the rest of his life? Or will he run out and become a burden on society at some point? I don't know about the owner, but his crew members will not be compensated, and they will immediately become unemployed. They may not even be eligible for unemployment benefits. 

The reduction in capacity not only means less strain on the fish population, but it also means a loss of jobs and a smaller market for the fishing industry infrastructure. If just one of the interlocking support businesses were to reach a tipping point and fail, that would mean the end of commercial fishing in that region. Certainly not a good thing.

And the remaining fishermen?  Those unwilling to surrender, those who want to catch the fish they contributed to the rebuilding, those who believe they should be seeing some benefit from their hard work? They would still be restricted by the artificially low allocations and brutal enforcement. Individually, they would be no better off than before, and collectively, they would be considerably weaker. 

As a small-government conservative, I cannot be happy when my government spends my money with so little thought as to the consequences, both intended and unintended. Bailouts are ugly and un-American. Yes, yes, yes -- I have heard all about too-big-to-fail. Certainly, a chickenfeed amount (to some) of $100M does not meet that criterion. Where does the money come from? More taxes? More debt?

And what about scrapping the boats? Does GDP grow while you destroy things? Was cash-for-clunkers a long-term success? Ask the used car people

Private property, entrepreneurial spirit, self-reliance -- these are the foundations of the Republic and the generally accepted tenets of the Republican Party. Senators Collins and Snowe should hang their RINO heads in shame for signing on to Kerry's current folly.

The real problem with the fishing industry today is a bureaucracy run amok, a rogue element of the civil service that uses arbitrary law enforcement to intimidate and extort (video of congressional testimony) the fishermen, an establishment that rewards deceit before the Inspector General (video of congressional testimony) with a paid vacation, an administrator who routinely stonewalls Congress -- in short, a government firmly in the control of the ecozealots.  

Nobody denies that fishing allocations should be restricted to keep the pressure off the rebuilding fish stocks, but allocations are insultingly below the scientifically established levels. Why? Because Dr. Lubchenco wants to force the industry to consolidate. Senator Kerry's proposal is dead-on with Dr. Lubchenco's goal and then some. 

The solution to the problem with the fishing industry demands a paradigm shift at NOAA. Increase the allocations to something within the science limits but less restrictive than the ecozealot-imposed current limits. Rethink the policy of threatening closure of the entire industry if one fisherman accidentally catches too many of a highly protected species. Do away with the exorbitant and arbitrary fines and seizures.

John Kerry has been a sometime supporter of the fishermen in their struggle against the encroaching NOAA bureaucracy. Kerry and others in the Congress have met repeatedly with Dr. Lubchenco. They have politely asked, demanded, whined, blustered, and pleaded. Dr. Lubchenco simply sits there, hands folded and lips pursed, and repeats her "I take direction from Obama" mantra. Kerry and his cohorts have met their match.

This is the same John Kerry who has a well-deserved reputation for flip-flops. We should have taken warning when he reassigned his very capable and fisheries-knowledgeable aide and replaced him with a rookie. Kerry's flip-flop on the fisheries is more than simply abject surrender; it is craven hypocrisy. He advocates hiding the $100M in a tens-of-billions omnibus budgetary bill so as to avoid any debate on the merits of his proposal. Sort of a reverse earmark -- not just a bridge to nowhere, but a bridge to oblivion.

Whatever happened to the power of the Congress? Kerry is now the alpha-dog senator from Massachusetts, but he is no Lion of the Senate. Why doesn't Kerry lead a charge to rewrite the legislation and defang the bureaucracy? How about defunding NOAA and fisheries management? But that would require standing up to Obama.

Mike Johnson is a concerned citizen, a small-government conservative, and a live-free-or-die resident of New Hampshire. E-mail: