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The Immovable Fox

The Immovable Fox
The Immovable Fox

You can sense the fox chuckling to himself, unafraid.


Yawning, he knows that a couple fancy schmancy big ocean reports won't change much.

The fox will keep gobbling up the chicks as we let him guard the hen house. We hope he won't overdo the kill, though we know he will.

He's the over-exploiter taking care of the over-exploited.

We refer yet once again to the unending conflict-of-interest problem in federal fisheries management. This is the shameful situation whereby commercial fishing interests dominate federal fishery management councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Fifteen years ago we wrote: "That preposterous scenario happens all the time on the federal fisheries level and the incestuous system has bumbled on for so long that even some well-meaning sportfishing interests don't really understand the financial conflict problem or realize that we could reform the machinery."

Our continual, and sometimes possibly tiresome wailing has not been totally in vain, happily, because on a state level three governors in a row have given us commitments to not name conflict-carriers to management boards. And key conservation groups have finally acknowledged the fox's presence.

On the national level, two ocean commissions, after spending millions and listening to countless witnesses, have indeed targeted overkill and mismanagement. And yet when it comes to the conflict question, the general media and Congress (which have an interactive relationship to be sure) back off on the conflict question. They prefer, lamentably, to press for total no-take zones in relatively small areas that have little to do with the big-picture overfishing factor but do harm family-level recreational fishing. They ignore the fox outside the boundaries. But you know that sad story by now.

At any rate, see the ocean reports online at Pewscienceseries.org and oceanlegacy.org.

The Pew Report is surprisingly and commendably strong against conflicts of interest, finding "no legitimate justification for exempting" council members from normal standards. Here's the Pew sentence we should all hold high before the President and Congress:

"Those who hold financial interests in regulated fisheries should be prohibited from membership, and the definition of 'financial conflicts' should be broadened to include lobbying for fishing interests."

Legislation could accomplish that prohibition quickly.

Remember, the conflict-ridden council members and too many commercially oriented NMFS staffers are the very people deciding how many of a species may be taken, and who gets to take them, the Pew folks note.

In the end, the ocean reports include powerful material, the question being, as always, how to translate it from slick paper into meaningful action. Until we demand reform by federal lawmakers, we can expect more of the same.

For every word you'll hear about overfishing and financial conflicts, you'll get a hundred about the Marine Protected Areas, a non-solution, however sexy.

No wonder the fox is so well fed.




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