Fishing Regulations Are Trouble

Image via Commercial and Sport Fishing

Licensing is when the government takes your right to do something and sells it back to you.

In Alabama, the Red Snapper season in the Gulf Coast has been extended from three days to three days a week for three months this summer.  After years of increasing restrictions, the population for this fish has rebounded after it was threatened due to overfishing.

This increase in the number of legal fishing days occurred after an extensive battle involving five Gulf States, the Department of Commerce, and other regulatory agencies.  Based upon the news coverage of the Red Snapper situation, it appears that federal regulators were not accurately measuring the size of the Red Snapper population due to a lack of understanding of the unique nature of the Gulf Coast environment. In Alabama, this error in measurement resulted significant losses in tourism-related revenue.

Fishing restrictions like days, quantity, size, and licensing are a few methods the government uses to regulate and protect fish populations from disappearing.  State governments across the U.S. employ all of these methods.  However, in some countries, there is no licensing requirement.  In fact, New Zealand and Great Britain are two nations with limited or no licensing requirements for fishing in some or all locations. In Great Britain, some fishing areas are not even regulated by the government because the rights to those resources are owned by private fishing clubs.

Licensing is when the government takes your right to do something and sells it back to you.  In 2011 Florida State Senator Joe Negron introduced legislation to remove that state’s commercial and recreational fishing license requirement.  When asked about the bill he said, “The question is why do we have fishing licenses? The burden of proof is with the people who want to hassle and annoy citizens by requiring written permission from the government.”

The debate on this bill centered on the funds that would be lost by the government if it ceased issuing fishing licenses.  The numbers at that time estimated that fishing licensing produced about $32 million for the State of Florida each year. State Senator Negron unsuccessfully framed his argument for the legislation with the premise that removing the licensing requirement is not only ethical but it will reduce the workload of government employees charged with issuing and checking these licenses while out in the field.  This small government argument fell on deaf ears.

Licensing is used by government to regulate many aspects of our lives including: fishing, conceal carry, marriage, liquor sales, pollution control, sign, sales tax, health department, babysitter, daycare, educator, health care, insurance licensing, after-hours construction, administrative approval, parking, and so many more that listing them isn’t practical.  The government has successfully inserted itself into every aspect of our lives such that we must ask permission and pay several fees before committing ourselves to one another for life and celebrating the occasion with a honeymoon to the Gulf Coast to catch some Red Snapper.  You try and figure out how many licenses you use on a daily basis just for the privilege to exist.

Aside from the profit motive, why does the government require Americans to ask permission to get a line and pole and head on down to the fishin’ hole?  Many in government claim that licensing protects fish populations from stress related to out of control human consumption. The Red Snapper was no more protected or threatened by a fisherman with or without a license.  The ability to regulate the days of legal fishing does not require each sportsman to be licensed.  The populations of fish in New Zealand are not threatened even though there is no licensing requirement for that nation.  The argument that licensing is required for any reason other than confiscation and the reinforcement of authority over your personal life is null.

The solution to the problem of protecting environmental concerns like wildlife populations and habitat integrity is private ownership.  Like in Great Britain the concept of private ownership over the right to use water resources would remove the need to involve the government.  Imagine the boom in innovation which would occur if individuals were personally liable for maintaining the quality of marine habitats.  The private sector has a history of creating high-quality results at a much lower cost than comparable governmental endeavors.  Opening bodies of water up for private ownership would elevate the burden on taxpayers to foot the bill for the pensions of fishing license cops nationwide.

This type of radical thinking is beyond the ability of many Americans to appreciate.  We have been programmed to accept without question the right of the government to charge us money for publicly declaring your commitment to your wife.   The gay marriage debate, which ended this decade didn’t even focus on whether the government should have the right to license, no matter how many inequities the system produced.  If Americans accept the inequities of marriage licensing the notion that we will wake up and demand an end to government ownership of access to bodies of water and their bounty is impossible.

Head on down to your local sporting goods store this weekend and buy yourself a fishing license.  Take your kids or a buddy to a good spot and relax with a cold one.  Just don’t think real hard about why it feels perfectly natural to ask permission to reel in that Bass.

Anson Knowles is the host of the Alabama-based radio program The Anson Knowles Show Live, Local, Liberty Oriented Talk on 92.5FM/770AM WVNN and wvnn.com.

Anson Knowles is a radio show host and libertarian political activist from Huntsville, Alabama. He was a 2014 candidate for the Huntsville, Alabama school board and served formerly as the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Madison County, Alabama. His writing has appeared also on AL.com, and his radio program takes place each Saturday morning.

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