Fishing Gone?

How a new Obama administration taskforce may pave the way for a ban on sport fishing.

Last week the blogosphere erupted with outrage, as conservatives declared that Barack Obama was going to ban recreational fishing, while liberals rolled their collective eyes in response and said that such claims were utterly absurd. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The Obama administration isn’t trying to ban sport fishing – at least not yet – but it is putting the mechanisms in place to restrict fishing in the future, as the slow bureaucratic wheels of “progress” inevitably grind forward.

The root cause of angler concern was the “Interim Framework For Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning” issued by the Interagency Ocean Policy Taskforce (latest version dated December 9, 2009). That document, which we can shorthand “CMSP,” does not call for an outright  ban on recreational fishing. However, the CMSP report specifically lists “recreational fishing” as an activity that needs to be “better managed” (page two of the report). Perhaps “better managed” translates into “leave fishermen alone,” but one may be forgiven for thinking not.

The CMSP report details a typically grandiose progressive vision. The oceans and the Great Lakes are in danger. How do we know this? Never mind the details, just take the government’s word for it. There’s a problem and the Obama administration is here to fix it. That fix naturally entails every human activity remotely connected to the sea. Among the activities that Ocean Policy Taskforce will examine are the following: commerce and transportation (i.e., shipping); commercial fishing; oil and gas exploration and development; recreational fishing and traditional hunting; and fishing and gathering.

The taskforce will start by dividing up the aquatic world into nine zones, called “Regional Planning Areas,” that stretch from American possessions in the western Pacific to the Caribbean Sea. At that point, the taskforce will determine the best way to “manage” (aka: regulate) the various activities within each Regional Planning Area that might affect the health of the oceans and Great Lakes. Of course, activities like commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration and shipping are already subject to heaps of regulation designed to protect the environment. Many would argue, myself included, that this regulatory structure, however bloated, has been pretty successful. Lake Erie, which environmentalists proclaimed “dead” back in the seventies, is teaming with marine life today, for example.

It should be noted that there are problem areas in the oceans, like dead zones that appear periodically in certain coastal areas around the world. Global warming zealots believe that these dead zones are caused by climate change, but then global warming zealots are sure that climate change is responsible for practically everything bad that happens on planet earth, up to and including blizzards. The more likely culprit is agricultural runoff that consumes dissolved oxygen in the water. In any case, existing regulatory strictures, like the Clean Water Act, are more than capable of analyzing and dealing with such problems.

One can reasonably expect that “Effective Coastal and Marine Spatial” Planning will lead to certain recommendations that will – of course – be based on the best scientific knowledge available. The Obama administration is always blathering on about the way it relies on science when making environmental decisions. Somehow, the best scientific knowledge available always seems to dovetail quite nicely with environmentalist agendas. It makes you wonder who the EPA has been employing in its planning and research departments for the last few decades.

Perhaps this relationship will change when it comes to coastal and marine spatial planning, but I wouldn’t place any bets. Obama’s EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has the methodology down pat: create a crisis, pick out some “independent” scientists who you know will give the answer you want and use their foregone conclusions to justify the actions that your pals at the Sierra Club have been urging for years.

Not that industry won’t have a role in figuring out spatial planning. The EPA always includes stakeholders when it comes up with a new set of regulations and the Interagency Ocean Policy Taskforce promises more of the same as it tackles spatial planning. Representatives of the oil and natural gas industry, for example, will surely attend meetings, offer comments and produce research, the vast majority of which will be politely ignored so that the Obama administration can say that they “listened” to industry before promulgating their latest and greatest set of rules to hamstring industry.

Further restrictions on sport fishing seem inevitable, although such restrictions wouldn’t be put in place immediately, but farther down the road when the all-important alarming narrative has been given a firm foundation and further crisis management is therefore “necessary.”

The most immediate worry is that the taskforce will conclude that further oil and gas exploration in coastal areas, while desirable for economic reasons, would cause too much environmental harm to be allowed. Obama would then shed the appropriate crocodile tears and explain how, while he really, really would have loved to increase domestic energy production, it’s just not worth the risk. And – gosh – according to the scientists, the damage would cost more than oil and natural gas would be worth anyway. So let’s go get those green jobs everybody! After all: “what’s good for the environment is good for the economy!” (You can expect to hear that last slogan approximately fourteen thousand times between now and November 2012).

One must say this about progressives: they are relentless and imaginative. The Ocean Policy Taskforce’s plans seem innocent enough at first blush, but what they represent is merely a first step down the long, familiar road of establishing a pressing need that only big government will be able to address.