There are various and serious reasons why the Senate should freeze NOAA’s fisheries funds, those funds that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has budgeted for further advancing catch share programs of fisheries management.
One is related to the internal dynamics of our democracy. The Senate should show respect for the opinion of the House of Representatives that, with the Jones Amendment, has voted overwhelmingly in favor of such an action. These days, it is good not to grow dissent in the wheels of our government. It is good to build on rare bipartisan agreement.
The tides are slowly but surely turning in favor of the operations of the family fishing fleet. It is good for the Senate to respect the will of the people. It is good for the Senate to respond favorably to the requests of the mayors of some of the largest fishing ports in the nation, Gloucester and New Bedford.
In curbing the behavior of NOAA there are overwhelming reasons of equity.
While various agencies of the federal government pour billions of taxpayer’s dollars to preserve jobs, it is not just for NOAA to be spending millions of dollars literally to destroy jobs and small private enterprises.
Prohibiting fishermen from catching fish, NOAA is destroying their jobs, the jobs of those enterprises on land that depend on fishermen’s catch, the livelihood of their families, and the economic integrity of age-old fishing communities like Gloucester.
On the face of it, a policy that carries forward such blatant dysfunction in the workings of our government does not make any sense. Yet, there evidently are people who are able to turn a blind eye to the reality.
Why? How are NOAA’s policies justified in front of the mirror and in front of the nation?
Misconception Number One. In the name of free enterprise, economists stand strongly behind the catch share policy; which they have been advocating for a considerable number of years and fairly unanimously.
Yet, economists should honestly disqualify themselves from passing any judgment on fisheries development issues because they are hamstrung by their own theories. They recognize only two types of goods: private goods and public goods.
The oceans are common goods, and as such they are outside the purview of economists.
There are two proofs to demonstrate that the privatization of the commons is misconceived.
When the commons are enclosed and privatized, you do not foster private enterprise: you foster monopolies.
Once the commons are privatized and enclosed, they collapse.
Misconception Number Two. Environmentalists, who propagate the idea of “the tragedy of the commons,” propagate an untruth. Toward the end of his life, Garrett Harding, the inventor of the idea of the tragedy of the commons retracted his belief.
If we look at the economic reality without the visor of ideology, we see the truth clearly.
The commons have been alive and vibrant for millions of years. The ones that have been enclosed during the last four to five hundred years, they have collapsed.
Historically we have had, then, not the tragedy of the commons, but the tragedy of the enclosures.
Misconception Number Three. Environmentalists, economists, and some bureaucrats who believe that they are saving the oceans because they are eliminating the free rider, the fisherman who is engaged in overfishing, are factually and scientifically wrong. Overfishing, whenever and wherever it does occur, is done by the large, generally subsidized, corporations and by the natural predators of fish – fish whose group size grows to such proportions through overfishing that their biomass collapses; when that occurs, they make room for the prey to grow again.
This is called the predator/prey model of fisheries development. It was discovered one hundred years ago. It is well known to mathematicians and physicists.
Not to respect these laws of nature is to inflict unnecessary hardship on the fishermen. Fish stocks are rebounding just because predators of bottom fish have again been consistently taken out of the water. And, wonder of wonders, there are forces at play that want to prohibit the catching of the natural predators of bottom fish.
These are some of the reasons for the Senate to stand up to the truth.
Short-term, the Senate should vote for any incarnation of the Jones Amendment to freeze NOAA’s fisheries funds.
Mid-term, the Senate should rally around the brilliant FISH Act proposed by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, the Fishery Impact Statement Honesty. As an editorial of our valiant Gloucester Daily Times put it, “Brown's measure would bring at least some of the needed reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and, among other things, demand annual accountability assessments monitoring the fairness of the regulations and the economic impact on communities such as Gloucester, New Bedford and so many others.”
Long-term, as explained at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/241380953, a petition signed so far by more than 500 people from all over the world with impassioned pleas, the Senate should muster the strength to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act by giving it a new head and a new soul. All its provisions should be made to accord with two fundamental propositions: NOAA should be instructed to fight against overfishing operated by the large corporations and the natural predators of fish; soon after that, NOAA should be instructed to fight, through appropriate R&D programs, for the health of the family fishing fleet.
Is the Senate going to side with the millions of years history of vibrancy of the commons? Or is it going to side with the five-hundred-year history of tragedy of the enclosures? The choice is for the U.S. Senate to make.
Carmine Gorga, PhD, is president of Polis-tics Inc. Beside many publications in economic theory and policy, he is the author of To My Polis, With Love: May Gloucester Show the World the Ways of Frugality.