Sunday, May 13, 2018


We’ve all heard of “Freudian slips,” words used in inappropriate contexts that are said to accidentally reveal thoughts that the speaker preferred to keep hidden.

“the manifestation of a subconscious desire, for example oversleeping on the day of a test, sending an email to the wrong recipient, a slip of the tongue…For psychologists, it is the expression of a repressed desire that resurges through behavior.  Parapraxis then reflects an inner conflict as it expresses an unconscious desire that is impossible to express consciously, but which makes itself known to the individual.”
I couldn’t help thinking about such things this week, as I watched a series of videos produced by supporters of legislation such as S. 1520, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act, which its supporters refer to as the “Modern Fish Act,” and H.R. 200, the regressive Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, which represents the only viable Modern Fish Act legislation in the House (H.R. 2023, the original House Modern Fish Act bill, has never been marked up, and so has apparently died in committee).

Before discussing the videos, a bit of background is probably in order.

Despite that, Modern Fish Act proponents consistently try to portray themselves as conservationists, claiming that their proposed legislation would maintain the health of America’s fish stocks.  In their pamphlet, “A Vision for Managing America’s Salt Water Recreational Fisheries,” which kicked off the effort to weaken America’s fisheries law, Modern Fish Act supporters used the term “conservation” no less than 26 times over just 14 pages, while at the same time urging policymakers to abolish recreational catch limits and delay the rebuilding of overfished stocks.

More than four years after that document was released, they are still actively trying to convince Congress and the public that the Modern Fish Act will


and that

That’s clearly the message that Modern Fish Act supporters consciously want to convey.

But if we watch the videos, a very different message is subconsciously creeping out, and it’s one that contradicts the intended story.

Ms. Ralston opens the piece with a criticism of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs all fishing in federal waters.

“Currently, federal fisheries are managed using commercial fishing concepts like “maximum sustainable yield” and tonnage-based “annual catch limits.”
As she speaks, the background video shows commercial fishermen on a trawler, wearing hardhats and facemasks, hauling in a net.  The scene then shifts to an aerial view of the deck on a large commercial vessel, where thousands of small, silvery fish—perhaps some sort of herring—are pouring down a chute to be iced down and stored in the hold.

The message is pretty clear:  Commercial fishing is an industrial operation that kills lots of fish.  That’s why annual catch limits—allegedly designed for the commercial fishery—must be “tonnage-based.”

Then the scene shifts.  Two recreational fishermen are in a small boat, casting lures in a southern backwater.  There are close-up shots of the anglers’ faces, of casting, of people silhouetted against a reddish sky.  When the one fish shown in this sequence, it is quickly released as the successful angler receives his companion’s congratulations.

While that is going on, Ms. Ralston says,

“Given the nature of recreational fishing, which is based more on the experience than maximizing harvest, this type of [commercially-oriented] is generally not feasible or appropriate.”
That message is pretty clear, too:  Recreational fishermen just want to have fun, and are happy even if they take nothing home, so why manage them with maximum sustainable yield or tonnage-based limits?  There is no reason for such terms to apply.

So far, all is going according to plan.  She is consciously sending the message the Modern Fish Act proponents want her to send.

But then the dissonance sets in.

“Relying on commercial management modes to regulate recreational anglers has resulted in shortened or even cancelled seasons, reduced bag limits, and unnecessary restrictions on anglers.  [emphasis added]”
Stop.  What was that she just said?

We all heard her say that “recreational fishing…is based more on the experience than maximizing harvest.”  Then we heard her complain that the current management system was wrong because it led to “reduced bag limits” and what she considered “unnecessary restrictions on anglers.” 

But if recreational fishermen are primarily concerned with the experience, and not a big kill, why should reduced bag limits be a problem?  Could it be that the “more on the experience” talk is all smoke and mirrors, and that Modern Fish Act proponents are really just trying to put more dead fish in their coolers, weakening the law to keep bag limits high?

Keep asking that question as we look at the next video.

Ms. Vasilaros says,

“Today’s system of fisheries management is outdated, and hampering access for our nation’s recreational anglers.  People won’t purchase boats and equipment if they see no reason to get out on the water…  [emphasis added]”
Again, hearken back to Ms. Ralston’s words in the first video.  She said that concepts such as maximum sustainable yield and annual catch limits weren’t appropriate means to regulate recreational fishermen, and said that anglers weren’t intent on maximizing harvest (even though reduced bag limits were, somehow, bad).  

Yet what is it about today’s federal fishery law that is “hampering access”?

It’s those very same “tonnage-based ‘annual catch limits’” that Ms. Ralston deemed inappropriate, that Magnuson-Stevens requires be set

“at a level such that overfishing does not occur in the fishery.”
It seems that the Modern Fish Act proponents are intent on doing away with annual catch limits in the recreational fishery, just so anglers can overfish--if that’s what’s necessary to give them a “reason to get out on the water” and continue to “purchase boats and equipment.” 

“a welcome relief for the thousands of tackle shops, marinas, equipment manufacturers and others who have suffered from decreasing access to Gulf red snapper in recent years,  [emphasis added]”

“will necessarily mean that the private recreational sector will substantially exceed its annual catch limit, which was designed to prevent overfishing the stock.”
So yes, Modern Fish Act supporters have already demonstrated that they have no problem with recreational overfishing, if it helps “tackle shops, marinas, equipment manufacturers and others” sell more stuff.

In the end, that’s what increased “access” is all about.

And with that, we’ll move on to the third video, which will tie a neat ribbon around it all.

But it’s the lyrics that tell the story…

“A long, long time ago,
In ’76 a bill was passed—
The Magnuson-Stevens Act.

It helped assure that conservation
Helped restore fish population—
Ensure each species got back on track…

Since then a generation’s gone.
The fish have had their time to spawn.

It’s time for us all to move on,
And let the anglers try…

Oh my, my, Magnuson-Stevens Act,
I caught a fish I’d like to keep
but had to throw it right back.

I hope the good old boys
In Congress work to enact,
What We the People want—
The Modern Fish Act…”
And there we have it, all laid out in their own words.  

Despite all of the talk about “conservation,” the “unconscious desires” of the Modern Fish Act supporters have emerged, naked, into the sunlight
Magnuson-Stevens may have used conservation to “help restore fish population” and put fish species back on a track toward recovery.  But that happened “a long, long time ago.”  By now, “a generation’s gone.”  “The fish have had their time to spawn.”

Today, “It’s time for all of us to move on,” and leave those days of conservation behind.

It's time to pass the Modern Fish Act, and so ensure that the era of marine conservation—the fishes’ time to spawn—will have ended, and the time for anglers to keep whatever fish they want--and not throw them back--will have begun.

Restrictive bag limits will be a thing of the past, along with annual catch limits that maintain recreational landings below maximum sustainable yield.  Instead, anglers will have greater “access,” overfishing at levels which will give them plenty of reason to get out on the water, and buy lots of new boats and equipment.

Until, of course, the fish disappear.

At that point, someone may have a chance to rewrite Don McLean’s classic again, this time referring to the enactment of the Modern Fish Act as

“The day the fishing died…”
Which is reason enough to contact your reps and senators, and let them know that you’d rather H.R. 200 and S. 1520—the Modern Fish Act—died instead.

For the fish should always have their time to spawn.

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