A Fishy Executive Order

By Mike Orbach

Dr. Mike Orbach gives his opinion on the executive order by President Bush to protect striped bass and red drum fish populations.

A Comment on the October 20, 2007 Executive Order: Protection of Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations

Marine fishery conservation always has two broad areas of objective and impact: 1) The biological objectives and impacts (how many fish, of which characteristics, come out of the ocean); and 2) the socio-economic objectives and impacts (who derives the benefit from those fish). President Bush’s recent Executive Order (Here) prohibiting commercial sale of striped bass and red drum caught in federal waters runs a significant risk of confusing these two areas of objective and impact. President Bush referred only to the biological conservation impact of the Executive Order. In fact, the biological conservation impact will be minimal, but the socio-economic impact substantial in terms of the allocation consequences.

The vast majority of these two fisheries are conducted in state, not federal waters. Striped bass, managed largely by the states under the umbrella of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, is in fact one of the great success stories of successful recovery of the Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina stocks. The primary impact of the President’s proclamation is to ALLOCATE the benefit of these fisheries in the federal waters to the recreational sector. Allocation is a perfectly legitimate objective in fisheries management, but the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act states that, “No (management) measure shall have economic allocation as its sole purpose”(MSFCMA, S. 104-297). While it is true that any fishing effort reduction may have biological conservation benefits, the primary effect of the President’s Executive Order will in fact be socio-economic, a fact that is virtually ignored in the Executive Order and the related press releases. Finally, do we really want the President of the United States making detailed allocative fishery management decisions, or for that matter biological conservation decisions? We have quite an extensive system set up under the MSFCMA and the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act to make such decisions, with the full participation of stakeholders, the states and the public. Based on the history of direct Congressional involvement in such detailed decisions, we should be very cautious. But above all, we should be honest and straightforward regarding our real objectives and their impacts.

Michael K. Orbach

Professor of Marine Affairs and Policy
Marine Laboratory, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences


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