I’m going fishing this morning, so I’m going to insert an article written for the Pilot in 2015 explaining why this article is misleading. If there are any questions, I will answer them when I get back
The Tragedy of the Chesapeake
EVEN LIBERTARIANS recognize that government has a duty to exclude force in the marketplace. That includes regulating the over-consumption of shared resources and the shifting of a business’ costs of operation to others who do not share in the benefits.
There is no better example of these acts of market aggression, and government’s failure to do its duty to prevent them, than the licensed plunder of the Atlantic menhaden in the Chesapeake Bay by the menhaden reduction industry.
The life cycle of the menhaden makes it particularly susceptible to such exploitation. Adult menhaden live and spawn in large, migratory schools in the ocean, where fertilized eggs hatch into larva. The larva move into the bays along the coast to nursery areas, where they grow rapidly before returning to the ocean as juveniles. There they join migratory schools and finish maturing, becoming fertile by the end of their second year.
Because the offshore schools can be replenished by juveniles from bays all along the migratory route, it is possible to overfish the inshore juveniles from one nursery area to the point of ecological collapse while the overall population offshore remains sustainable. Because of this unique life cycle, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission finds that menhaden are not overfished, which may be true for the offshore population, but Virginia has local interests it must protect.
Because depletion of the juvenile population in the inshore nursery areas has dire consequences for the ecology of the bays, every Atlantic state, from Florida to Maine, except Virginia, bans purse seining for menhaden in its inshore and near-shore waters. The result is that Omega Protein, the sole industrial menhaden reduction fishing operation, catches nearly its entire Atlantic quota in Virginia waters, with fully half its quota taken inside the Chesapeake Bay.
The company processes menhaden into health food oils and food for fish farms and other industrial uses. It could fill its quota in the ocean; it is simply cheaper to do it in the Chesapeake Bay and close to the Virginia shore.
This process is very costly to other users of the bay, however. In effect, Omega lowers its costs by imposing costs on others.
Those costs are many.
Menhaden are important forage fish for other species, especially in their juvenile stages.
Menhaden are filter feeders, removing excess algae and nutrients that foul the bay.
Menhaden for the reduction industry are taken using very large purse seines, nets used to encircle a school of fish. The net is closed at the bottom and hauled aboard, and the fish are suctioned into the ship’s hold.
Used in deep, offshore waters, the nets trap few other species. But in shallow waters where the net drags the bottom, far more game and commercial fish are entrapped and wasted.
Further, in shallow waters, the nets damage grass beds, oysters, soft coral. Too often, the nets snag and are torn, dumping tons of dead fish to foul the water and beaches.
Worst of all, the water used to pump the fish from the nets to the hold is then dumped overboard, carrying with it scales, slime, blood, fish feces and shreds of fish. This organic matter depletes oxygen as it decomposes and, since it smells to fish like food where there is none, it disrupts the normal feeding behavior of fish. Fish can’t find their food, or fishermen’s bait, if they smell food everywhere.
In the open seas, this cloud of organic matter disperses with relatively little harm, but in the tidal waters of the bay, it drifts back and forth for days, spoiling the bay for other users.
The reduction industry is not the only user of menhaden, but it consumes fully 85 percent of the Atlantic quota, resulting in elevated market prices for bait users.
The Chesapeake Bay is a shared resource, and the General Assembly, which regulates menhaden fishing in Virginia waters, has an obligation to ensure that all users of the bay respect the rights of others. It has failed to do so. It’s time to ban purse seining of menhaden for reduction in Virginia’s inshore and near-shore waters, just as every other state on the East Coast did long ago.
Don Tabor of Chesapeake, a retired dentist, is a Libertarian activist and (former) Director of Public Affairs for the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Defense Foundation.
This article first appeared in the Virginian Pilot.