- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As Congress debates measures to stimulate the econ- omy, reduce the deficit and protect jobs, 19 members are pushing a back-room amendment that would block funding for an innovative way to manage the nation’s fisheries, called catch shares. This is a last-gasp effort for a proposal that was rejected by both the House and Senate earlier this year.

The move is heavy-handed governing at its worst as the amendment would prevent fishermen from even considering the possibility of catch shares, a market-oriented, property rights-driven approach to species preservation. Specifically, it would ban the approval or development of any new catch-share programs and be slipped into an “minibus” package the House Appropriations Committee and the commerce subcommittee are working on.

Ironically, many of the members supporting this amendment recently signed a pledge stating that they would not insert any riders into the appropriations bill before passage. The worst part about this? The traditional fishery management alternative they’re seeking to keep in place has been an absolute disaster.

In the past decade, the U.S. government has spent, on average, more than $70 million annually bailing out failed federally managed fisheries (not including salmon fisheries, which receive additional aid). On top of that, overfishing, fishery closures and reduced fishing days have been the norm, hurting local economies and threatening the very existence of commercial fishermen across the country.

Fishermen and fisheries managers have looked to tools like catch shares in recent years to help solve these problems because they allow fishermen to know ahead of time how many fish they can catch in a season. This flexibility puts fishermen in better control of their businesses and enables them to better manage their livelihood without the need for excessive government regulation.

Furthermore, these management programs give individual fishermen a stake in ensuring that the fishery is maintained at a sustainable level, in turn ensuring that the industry remains viable for future seasons.

So why is Congress now trying to take this option off of the table for local fishermen?

That $70 million of taxpayer money has propped up entrenched interests that are now fighting to keep things the way they are - even if that means that American fishermen go under, fisheries get worse, and fishermen lose the flexibility and freedom to fish throughout the year.

Congress should keep fisheries management decisions at the local level where they belong so we can let fishermen decide for themselves what is best for their communities and their businesses.

Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty.

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