San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Fishy Tale Of Government Waste

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA, is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.  NOAA runs on a $5.5 billion budget and gives us such unnecessary things as the National Weather Service and the Marine Recreational Information Program.  I suspect you have heard of the NWS but, if you are like me, you have never heard of the MRIP.  Here is how NOAA describes the MRIP, "The Marine Recreational Information Program, or MRIP, is the way NOAA Fisheries counts and reports marine recreational catch and effort. Driven by data provided by anglers and captains, MRIP produces better information through better science and, equally important, increased transparency, accountability, and engagement.  NOAA Fisheries is entrusted with ensuring the long-term health of ocean fisheries and other marine life in federal waters. One of our most important jobs is working with both commercial and recreational fishermen to count what species are being caught, when, where, and how. This information is used to decide how many fish can be taken recreationally and commercially without negatively affecting the sustainability of individual fisheries. It also ensures appropriate measures are taken to recover fisheries in trouble."
Well there you have it.  The federal government is in the business of counting fish.  I was not aware of this fact but according to international law a sovereign nation has exclusive control of waters extending approximately 13 miles offshore and another region of limited control over the next 13 miles of offshore waters.  Then international law recognizes economic control by a sovereign nation over waters that stretch an additional 200 miles offshore.   So the federal government of the Socialist Democracy of Amerika has the legal right to "manage" the economic resources of whatever exists in the waters up to 230 miles off the coast of this country.  NOAA claims the authority to manage the fish that live in those waters and spends $5.5 billion dollars a year in part on "increasing transparency, accountability and engagement...without negatively affecting the sustainability of individual fisheries," whatever all of that nonsense means. 
A reader of this blog sent me an article about the operation of MRIP in Alabama.  As it turns out, the great state of Alabama also has a taxpayer financed program to count fish.  In particular, both the federal government and the state of Alabama are claiming to be counting the total number of red snapper that are caught in the economic zone off the shores of Alabama.  And therein lies the problem.  According to the report sent to me by the reader, "The final catch numbers for the 2015 Federal Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) again show a significant discrepancy with the numbers estimated by the State of Alabama Red Snapper Reporting Program. This is the second consecutive year that results from Alabama’s program and those of the federal MRIP program have been vastly different. Chris Blankenship, Director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division, said the Alabama program, known as Snapper Check, estimated the red snapper catch for the 2015 season at 1,045,042 pounds. NOAA Fisheries’ Federal MRIP estimated the red snapper landed in Alabama at 2,355,481 pounds."  Although I said I would not give him credit for the phrase, my source described this issue as a clear case of government in-e-fish-ency.  I could not agree more.
How can two different government bureaus, each established to measure the exact same thing, come to such widely divergent conclusions.  The margin of error between the two reports is  greater than 100%, making both of them totally useless.  How much money is being wasted, year after year, incorrectly counting the number of red snappers caught by Alabama fishermen?  And why does it matter how many red snapper are caught?  
The answer to the last question is easy.  Both the SDA and Alabama claim authority over the waters off the shores of Alabama.  They also claim the right to own and manage everything that exists in those waters.  That means that all of the fish swimming in those waters belong to one branch of government or another, or, as in this case, two branches of government.  Now what happens to things owned by the government?  You guessed it!  The tragedy of the commons.
The economic doctrine of the tragedy of the commons asserts that when everybody owns something nobody owns that thing.  When the government, claiming to represent the people, asserts ownership over a bunch of fish swimming in the sea those fish suddenly become the property of every citizen of the SDA.  But when something belongs to everyone it really belongs to nobody and something immediately takes place.  Everyone who has an interest in red snapper immediately goes out and tries to catch as many of them as possible.  Why do they do that?  Because everyone else is doing the same thing.  And why is everyone else doing the same thing?  Because nobody really owns the red snapper.  
This is when government bureaus are set up and government programs are established to manage the red snapper.  The goal is to avoid the tragedy of the commons and the depletion of the red snapper population in those waters.  But how can the government properly manage the fish population when it has no clue how many fish exist in those waters as well as no clue as to how many of those fish are being caught each year?  Answer, it can't.
The solution to the problem, now possible due to advances in technology, is to privatize the economic zone waters off the shores of Alabama.  Sell off plots of ocean to the highest bidders and allow the owners to manage the fish that swim there.  When fishermen have an ownership interest in the fish they suddenly develop a long term perspective and seek the manage the fish population to sustain profits for a very long period of time.  Let the fishermen figure out how many fish they want to catch and get the government out of the expensive business of counting fish, something it is clearly incapable of doing.

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