Sunday, March 13, 2016

UNITY IS NOT ALWAYS USEFUL

Back in 1982, the junta that ran Argentina ran into a bit of a problem.  Citizens were getting tired of its authoritarian ways, and starting to ask questions when people disappeared in the dark of the night, or showed up as corpses at sunrise. 

The junta wasn't used to public unrest.  The last thing that they wanted were too many people asking too many questions.  Folks who paid too much attention and thought a little too hard ended up making trouble.

The junta needed a way to divert their attention, so it started a war with England.

Argentine leadership dressed the thing up in patriotic trappings.  It called for a united national effort to oppose perfidious Albion and retake the Falkland Islands—what Argentina calls the Islas Malvinas—which Britain supposedly stole from the Argentines in 1833.

In the end, the junta’s plan failed, largely because they lost the war.  Even so, diverting the Argentine public’s attention from the junta by conjuring a threat from “outside” followed a tried-and-true political formula that has been used throughout the ages, one that created tragedy in the mid-20th Century, and is raising its head again today in America’s presidential politics.

It's used in fisheries politics, too.

I was reminded of that recently as I thumbed through the March/April issue of Tide magazine, the house publication of the Coastal Conservation Association, and came across an article by Ted Venker, entitled “Unity at a time of adversity.”

As far as I know, the piece is not available on-line.  There’s no reason that it should be, as it targeted CCA members, using the same old strategy of focusing attention on another supposed outside threat, in this case commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.

The article lays it on clearly, throughout its text.

“Group defense is the best way to ensure survival and eventual success.
“Swim in strength together or die alone—such is life in the ocean, and, unfortunately, in the federal fisheries management process, too, it seems…
“In this system, a solitary recreational angler has no chance.  Commercial operators of all stripes have a clear financial motivation to do whatever it takes to work the system inside and out to take advantage of the situation and secure a personal windfall…
“The need has never been greater for the recreational community to swim together and we are fortunate to have an entity like the Center for Coastal Conservation to draw all facets of the vast recreational angling community together to face this challenge…”
So who is this “Center for Coastal Conservation”?  Ted Venker tells us that it is

“an all-star team of industry players including the American Sportfishing Association [representing fishing tackle manufacturers and dealers], the National Marine Manufacturers Association, CCA, Yamaha, Shimano, Maverick Boats, the International Game Fish Association, Costa del Mar, AFTCO, Brunswick and many others.  It is an  compilation of the recreational angling community, and it stands unified against interests that stand only for their pocketbooks. [emphasis added]”
For the purposes of this essay, we can think of them as recreational fishing’s equivalent to the Argentine junta. 

Where the Argentine junta tried to maintain their power and influence by riling up the citizens and urging them to unify against the British “enemy”; the recreational anglers’ junta seeks to achieve its goals by playing on anglers’ dislike and distrust of their supposed “enemy,” the commercial fishery.

The anglers’ junta must keep that dislike strong and alive, because if anglers started looking at the Center too hard, they might start believing that outfits such as the American Sportfishing Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Yamaha, Shimano, Maverick Boats, Costa del Mar, AFTCO, Brunswick and many others might just be in it “for their pocketbooks”, too, and wondering what they really want…

All of those institutions are for-profit companies, and filling “their pocketbooks,” or more precisely, their investors’ pocketbooks, is the sole reason that they exist.  

Let’s not be naïve about this—corporations do what is in their corporate interest; unless they can get some favorable publicity out of appearing concerned, they don’t care about your interests at all.

And no, however, that sounds, I’m not some left-wing ex-hippie.  When I’m not fishing or hunting or writing this blog, or taking part in the fisheries management process, I’m doing my job as in-house counsel for an international investment bank.  I’ve been a Wall Street lawyer for most of my professional life, even working for Lehman Brothers for a year and a half before that firm’s demise.  So I know how business folks think.

And what business folks think about most is the next earnings announcement—the next fiscal quarter, the next fiscal year.  That’s particularly true if a company is publicly owned, for if earnings come in below analysts’ expectations, even by just a few cents, the stock price is likely to fall; falling stock prices make investors unhappy and tend to reduce top executives’ net worth.  Good short-term earnings, on the other hand, can make stock prices rise, and increase executive pay.


Over $7 million in all.  Some might call that a “personal windfall…”

So it’s natural that the executives who run America’s businesses focus on the short term.  Tackle businesses and boat-building businesses aren’t any different.

Anglers, however, are different.

Most anglers, if you catch them in a moment of honesty, will tell you that they want to bring home a few fish today, but not at the expense of their kids or grandkids.  They’ll take the truly long view, thinking in generations, not in fiscal quarters.

So while they’ll grumble and complain about regulations, they’ll usually do the right thing once they understand why they should.

However, that grumbling and complaining presents an opening for the corporate folks; times of unrest are when juntas take power.  They’ll do their best to revive old hostilities between the recreational and commercial sectors, blaming the commercial fishery for all of the anglers’ woes, whether they deserve such blame or not.  They need to keep anglers distracted, and get their support to achieve corporate ambitions.

And their primary corporate ambition is weakening the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 

That is made clear in the Center-supported report “A Vision for Managing America’s Salt Water Recreational Fisheries,” which was issued by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.  The report supports weakening the portions of Magnuson-Stevens that require fish stocks to be rebuilt promptly, and within a set time.  It wants that done so fishery managers may allow populations

“to recover gradually while diminishing socioeconomic impacts.”
Such ambition is reinforced in corporate press releases such as the one put out by Yamaha, which declared that

“Yamaha Marine Group Applauds Passage of H.R. 1335.”
H.R. 1335, you may recall, is the latest iteration of the “Empty Oceans Act,” which was passed by the House of Representatives last May.  Purporting to add more “flexibility” to the fishery management process, it would substantially weaken the conservation and stock rebuilding provisions of Magnuson-Stevens, providing many loopholes that would perpetuate the overfishing of some stocks and prevent others from ever being rebuilt.

H.R. 1335 is not only supported by the recreational anglers’ junta but also, ironically, by many of the same commercial fishermen that, they claim, anglers must oppose.  That should tell us a lot about folks' true motives.

They all like the bill for about the same reason; it would let more fish be killed, and more money made, before everything fell apart.

If you’re only focused on the short term, it’s a pretty sweet deal; for anglers, and for the fish, it’s a long-term disaster.

Which really says it all about juntas.  They may speak about “unity,” but in the end, they only take care of their own.


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