Horse and Fish Policy

Swinging towards policy at the moment.  Two items about federal <-> local management of declining heritage wildlife:

1. Read this article (warning: heartbreaking) about the current state of Wyoming’s wild horse population, and the federal and state level removal policies in the interests of preserving rangeland for cattle, even though the wild horse carrying capacity is much, much higher than their current population.  This kind of thing is a) insane and b) reveals a lot about the cultural relationship with the landscape in the colonized Western US.  It’s important to remember the role horses played in the native resistance to colonization as well.  I could go on and on, but for now, posted for the record.

2. I went to a very interesting talk at the NOFA conference yesterday by Carolyn Eastman, co-owner of Eastman’s Fish Market in Seabrook, NH and developer of one of the relatively few Community Supported Fisheries business models in the US.  It’s a direct-market relationship like a CSA vegetable share that allows small fishing boat operators to stay in business and provide shareholders with fresh, seasonal, small-operator-caught fish almost year round.  Carolyn had a lot of interesting things to say about recent trends in the fishing industry in New England and some very pointed comments about federal regulations.

The basic story is that ocean fishing is primarily regulated at the federal level rather than the state level for agriculture, and the bureaucracy fishermen have to tangle with is correspondingly more complex and expensive.   In Carolyn’s telling of it, federal fishing regulations intended to rebuild marine fish stocks are a) extremely complex and b) not scaled to boat size, resulting in small operators being pushed out of the business both by the restrictions on their harvest and by the administrative overhead of being in compliance.  She also basically said (with some follow-up questions and prompting) that the fish stock data collected by fishermen is distorted to avoid funning afoul of regulations, and then selectively interpreted by the government to match their pre-decided policies.  She thinks that because of that, the data that harvesting limits are based on is inaccurate and based on measurement of only a few narrow variables in a much more complex system, which therefore both undercounts the fish stocks (creating more restrictive limits) and leads to distortions that undermine conservation.  Which seems like standard Sociology of Science stuff (albeit from a very particular slant).

Carolyn wouldn’t make any specific policy change recommendations when asked, although I’m guessing she would say that fishermen should be more involved in writing policy, regulations should be scaled to boat size, and small fishermen should be permitted to catch more and be required to complete less paperwork related to that catch.  There was enough of an ideological and victimized quality to all the policy talk that I was skeptical of some of her claims (for example, that government regulations had created a population spike in sand sharks, in turn causing population of haddock, cod, etc, to decline further through predation – which sounds a lot like the “remove the competing predators/wild horses” madness).  And she didn’t have a lot of clear things to say about the state and trends of fish stocks currently – she said “there will be no small commercial fishermen in New Hampshire in 10 years” but seemed to blame that on regulations and consolidation pressure rather than on the (very real and First World overharvest-caused) collapse of the ocean food web.

But her description of the CSF model (and other direct-market strategies like selling directly off the boat at dock) as a creative response to current conditions was inspiring.  Small-scale commercial ocean fisherman are definitely in a bind – both collapsing fisheries and the regulatory regime that was set up in response to those collapsing fisheries (whether well-designed and in good faith or not) create a big set of incentives to “get big or get out” analogous to the lose-lose choices facing farmers in the rapid-industrializing decades following World War II.  Fresh, local, seasonal, and at least more sustainable harvested and managed seafood through a creative direct-market economic model sounds like a big win-win to me.

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One Response to Horse and Fish Policy

  1. Liz T. says:

    http://gao.gov/products/GAO-11-228
    check out this GAO report for another aspect of horse suffering.

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