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Romney Gets Sustainable Fisheries Right, Then Wrong

RP Siegel | Wednesday May 16th, 2012 | 0 Comments

You would think that Mitt Romney, as the former governor of a coastal state, would have a better handle on the fishing industry. For him to come out and say at a campaign stop in New Hampshire that the reason fishermen up there are having such a hard time earning a living is because of excessive regulation, not because the fish in that region are overfished, is either ignorant or disingenuous.

He told the crowd. “It’s a tough time to be in the fishing business in America. Not just in that industry, but in many industries, Small business has really felt like it’s been under attack over the last several years. […] Across America regulators are just multiplying like proverbial rabbits and making it harder for enterprises to grow and to understand what their future might be.”

Considering the trajectory of his career path, it’s true that he probably understands regulation far better than he does scarcity.

But the facts are in, and overfishing is real and is getting worse.

  • The worldwide fish catch has increased fourfold in the past 40 years
  • As of 2006, some 1173 fish species were threatened with extinction, including the Atlantic Cod, the primary moneymaker for New England fishermen
  • 80 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited
  • The world’s fishing fleet is growing faster than the amount caught

This last fact is important because it indicates that there are lots of fishing vessels now scouring the oceans for fish, making regulation difficult, but all the more necessary.

The truth is, Governor Romney knew this, but he chose to act as if he didn’t, since that fit in better with his overall theme of regulation being a job-killer. Never mind the fact that only 0.3 percent of all layoffs are traceable back to some kind of regulation, while those same regulations may, in fact, add more jobs elsewhere in the economy.

He went on to bash “Obamacare,” which of course, was his objective all along, reaching out to small businesses, to whom he said, “The last thing [they] want to hear is that they’ve got a new expense they’ve got to pay.”

If ever there was an example of seeing the trees instead of the forest, this has to be it. So, we won’t regulate fisheries at all. Let the fishermen catch as many fish as they can, and when they wake up one day and discover that all the fish are gone, it won’t matter, since Mr. Romney will have already gotten from them what he wanted, namely, their vote. This is, of course, yet another encore of the tragedy of the commons, a lesson we seem incapable of learning.

The crushing irony behind all of this is the fact that while he was governor of Massachusetts, he undertook a substantial set of marine regulations along with his health care reform program, upon which much of Obamacare is based.

Romney launched the Ocean Management Initiative in 2003,that provided, “a statutory framework for comprehensive ocean management.” Among the provisions of the plan was the following:

The Ocean Plan shall articulate management measures, including performance standards, mitigation requirements, and use limitations, as may be applicable to specific geographic areas, to balance resource protection and economic development.

The document goes on to speak specifically about fisheries management, which continues to be overseen by the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF).

As for “Romneycare,” despite the fact the Mr. Romney now says he never intended for it to be a model for the entire nation, he said exactly that in a 2009 editorial in USA Today. Under Romney’s state health care reform plan, citizens of that state were required to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. This, of course, is the provision in President Obama’s health care bill that conservatives find most objectionable and have gone so far as to take a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court, hoping to have it overturned. This was perhaps Romney’s greatest achievement as governor of Massachusetts, but since health care reform has proven unpopular among his conservative constituents, he now claims that he will repeal it on his first day in office.

Tell them what they want to hear. The facts, apparently, have a life of their own.

[Image credit: Defence Images: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

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