Wednesday, March 10, 2010

EDITORIAL: Four Questions to Ask About the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force

EDITORIAL: Four Questions to Ask About the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force

As many of you know, I have been following the developments concerning the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force very carefully. For those who haven't taken the time to read about it, you can catch up on it here and here and here.

Basically, it is the most sweeping reform of coastal fishing regulations in memory. The White House's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force is a plan, in the words of Robert A. Miller, noted angling writer and geologist, "fraught with serious implications, not the least of which relate to recreational fishing." The most serious of these include the edict to join the Law of the Sea Convention, which would basically put coastal waters under international jurisdiction.

What has many, many sportfishermen and women worried is the almost insane pace at which this massive reform is being carried out. What has many, many anglers of all stripes up in arms is the lack of say from both anglers and the sportfishing industry in the drafting and refining of this proposal. Add that to the recent breaking news via ESPN that public input has been cut off and you have the recipe for a disaster.

Now, I would like to think I am an informed person, which, of course, is very different from an educated person. Some of the least informed people I know have the most education, and some of the least educated are the most informed. I have worked hard to inform myself on this issue, and everything I've seen from the manner in which the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force has conducted its affairs has thrown up one red flag after another. Why the break neck speed? Why the almost ludicrous lack of input from a multi-billion dollar recreational sport industry? Try as I might, I have yet to find a convincing answer to these two questions.

I would like to think I am also a reasonable person. I want to give this administration the benefit of the doubt, but I've taken a long, hard look at their track record, and am troubled. As a friend of mine pointed out, if I sit back and hope for the best, "what if you're wrong? What if, in two years, the entire Great Lakes fishery is closed to sport anglers? How would you live with yourself?" At the risk of being far too rhetorical, I'm going to list what I think any reasonably informed person should ask about the Task Force and its work.

Is it unreasonable to cast doubt on a plan so hastily put together?

Would a reasonable person question the merits of any task force in which anti-fishing advocacy groups numbering at best thousands of members have far more say than a sport fishing industry numbering millions?

What has this administration done in its first year to give us any reason to believe this plan has been thought through in a rational manner that takes into account the economic consequences of sweeping government reform as well as the very real environmental concerns facing our coastal waters?

Can we afford to trust our future, OUR OUTDOORS, to a task force that willfully makes little or no distinction between commercial and sport fishing?

The answers to those questions will differ from person to person, but I don't think for one moment that the queries are unreasonable.

I guess the most frustrating thing for me is that, as a dedicated angler and a historian of Outdoor America, I feel like I am being painted by the administration on this issue as at best a nuisance and at worst an enemy of their plan. I feel like I'm being told smarter people than myself are being put in charge of this, and that whatever they come up with will by definition be the right answer. I sense an infuriating tone of condescension coming from the Task Force, as if they only deigned to hold a public forum to quiet "the masses" before going off and doing exactly what they wanted to do in the first place. I get no sense they really want to know what the average American has to say on the subject.

For years the exploits of hunters and anglers in protecting the environment have been virtually ignored by governments, schools, and academics alike. Don't believe me? Go get yourself a copy of any of the standard reference works on the ecological and environmental history of America and try to find the accomplishments of hunters and anglers within their considerable pages. I'll save you the time: you won't find much, if anything, about the incredible work sportsmen did to help protect and conserve the environment. Since the entire ecological movement in America was basically founded, promoted, and staffed by avid hunters and anglers, this omission goes well beyond glaring.

Why the history lesson? You may think that as a history professor, I never pass up an opportunity to lecture an audience. That may very well be true. However, there's a far more grave reason for that anecdote. As sportsmen and women, we've already let others write our history for us. Will we let them craft our future as well?

I urge everyone to familiarize yourself with the issue, and if you come to the same conclusion that I have, take the time to write the administration about your reservations concerning the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force.

History is waiting to judge us all.

-- Todd E.A. Larson, Ph.D.

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