March 23, 2017 — In your campaign, you correctly recognized that many basic industries in the United States — ones that have created stable jobs and communities for generations — have increasingly come under siege. You identified globalization, overzealous regulation, and the past administration’s inclination to advance international policy goals at the expense of domestic jobs, as among the culprits.
Your words struck a chord among many in the commercial fishing industry, where middle class jobs have been hollowed out of the coastal communities. There are many fishing ports around the country that bear witness to this sad fact.
While your policy prescription is general, like advanced cancer treatments, the best cures may be patient-specific.
We’d like in this column to focus on infrastructure, but not infrastructure as it’s generally thought of. There are plenty of fishing vessels available for use. Many issues with fish processing are largely a function of disuse, rather than a lack of capacity. Instead, we respectfully ask you to focus on the intellectual infrastructure of fisheries management.
Among our chief complaints with the administration just past is that it was long on big plans, but short on follow-through. It’s one thing to center fisheries management policy on data-hungry ecosystem management models and complex catch share programs. It’s quite another to implement these regimes effectively.
Maybe worse than being overzealous, fisheries management in the Obama administration became over-ambitious.
A reflexive reaction might be to throw out all regulation, but that’s not the solution, either. Sustainable fisheries do produce more economic benefits. The U.S. Atlantic scallop fishery is but one example of a somewhat flexible management regime producing an ecologically stable fishery. The lean years have become less lean, and the good — even great — years more prevalent. Product quality improved. Scallopers maintained a consistent level of supply when the rest of the world couldn’t or didn’t. Marketplace rewards followed.
Also, and this may be controversial even among our clients, but starving managers of federal funds does not necessarily make them do less. Specifications need to be set each year, and much of fisheries regulation is just keeping up with what’s happening in the ocean. A lack of resources can, however, make them do what they do less well. “Bureaucratic incompetence” can become a self-fulfilling prophesy when there aren’t sufficient funds for data collection and brain power.