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Posted on Mar 10, 2007 in Top Shots
Avoidable "Disaster"?

What if loggers in your state made their own policy and pretty soon your lands had been denuded of all their once-fine timber -- great forests reduced mostly to barren ground? Then what if they claimed that because no trees were left for them to harvest, you (and all other citizens of the state) now owed them welfare since they could no longer work?

I wonder how most folks would react.

I think I have some idea.

Yet Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is reported "leaning toward" seeking a federal disaster declaration to help out the state's beleaguered commercial fishermen -- that is, asking citizens to pick up the tab for years of overfishing. I'm not hard-hearted, nor do I think most sport fishermen are. Asking for taxpayer funds to help a commercial fleet ravaged by, say, storms, is one thing. But asking taxpayers to pick up the tab for avoidable self-destruction, for those who wiped out their own livelihood, is something else again. Worse yet, those involved in the recreational-fishing industry must feel that such bailouts are particularly unfair since on one's offering to picking up their tabs for lost business in the face of collapsed stocks of groundfish.

Granted, there's the justification that the commercial fleets were only following federal rules. But everyone knew that the federal fisheries management had been corrupted, and that as scientists repeatedly warned, a collapse of groundfish stocks was imminent. Yet the fishing raged on. Until it was dead.

It would seem that the governor is now succumbing to the same kind of pressures that fishery managers in that region routinely bowed to. As commercial fishers continually invested in bigger, faster boats and higher technology, they grew more proficient at catching fish on the banks, but also had to catch more to pay for the capitalization and a vicious cycle ensued. The result was the end of an industry -- it was avoidable and it's genuinely a sad thing.

I certainly wish no ill toward the state's commercial fishermen and regret the hard times that they and their families face now with the death of an industry. But I'm not sure we should be rewarding those who killed it with infusions of public money.

-Doug Olander

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