By James Mitchell
It seems like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) can’t get enough of belittling our nation’s fishermen. In a recent Seattle Weekly blog entitled, “New Study Sounds Rare Optimistic Note in Sustainable Seafood Conversation,” an EDF staffer compared “fishing management strategies to a parent’s handling of the situation that unfolds after a piñata’s broken at a child’s birthday party,” further adding that traditional fisheries management (focusing on rules that regulate boat size, gear type, and calendar date), “is analogous to a parent trying to slow a candy rush by insisting each child only use one hand.”
In EDF’s piñata candy analogy, our fishermen are compared to greedy candy-hungry children, and the federal government is portrayed as, not merely paternalistic, but actually the parents of these little children. This is coming from the same group whose west coast vice president famously described fishermen as “unskilled, unprofessional,” and prone to “high drug use,” at a conference to woo private investors into a scheme to privatize our fisheries (Page 7).
So what’s the purported solution to solve the crisis of the split piñata? Just like at the investor conference: privatizing our nation’s fisheries with catch shares. As EDF puts it, “You can each get 10 pieces of candy. You have to stay within your limit or find someone willing to give you [their] candy. Go after sugary candy, go after chocolate candy, go after whatever you like.”
Apart from being condescending, this analogy is overly simplistic and completely inaccurate. If these kids were under a “candy catch shares” regime, they would soon come to a rude awakening.
First, they would discover that not every kid is given the same 10 pieces, because in the real world, not every kid is treated equally. Some kids get preference because of who their parents are, because they’re popular, etc. Next, they would discover that they are not allowed to go after whatever candy they like—they have to pick the same kind of candy every year because the quota is species – er, candy-type specific. That means if their candy type isn’t even in the piñata that year, they don’t get any candy. Finally, the “smaller” children would soon witness how the big bullies acquire the bulk of the candy by teaming up on the little ones to force them out of the room.
As the icing on the birthday cake, the parents might even ask one of the bigger children how the piñata party went, to which he would cheerfully reply in chocolate-stained teeth, “Great! Let’s have another!”
The list of flaws with the candy analogy goes on, but one thing remains clear. Candy catch shares don’t work, and neither do real-life catch shares on our nation’s fisheries.