Pay­ing the Piper

PLAY BY THE RULES OR YOU’RE OUT OF THE GAME. I shouldn’t have to write about this sub­ject, but I will.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - RIP CUN­NING­HAM

Per­haps it is just hu­man na­ture to want to cut cor­ners or sim­ply get away with some­thing. Some folks would never do any­thing legally or morally wrong. Oth­ers may un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence be­tween right and wrong, but feel they are only one per­son and what they do is in­con­se­quen­tial. If they were only one per­son, their acts might be in­con­se­quen­tial, but there are mil­lions and mil­lions of re­cre­ational an­glers, and most faith­fully fol­low the rules. Thank good­ness. If they did not, it would be very con­se­quen­tial.

While I have been think­ing about this for a while, sev­eral things hap­pened last sum­mer that made me think about it even more. First, Capt. John Mc­mur­ray wrote a piece for fis­sues.org, a blog cov­er­ing a wide range of fish­eries top­ics, which is sup­ported by the Ma­rine Fish Con­ser­va­tion Net­work. Mc­mur­ray’s piece was ti­tled: “It’s Not Okay …”

The blog cov­ered the sub­ject of re­cre­ational an­glers and char­ter/ party-boat cap­tains sell­ing the tuna they or their cus­tomers catch. They do this with­out any per­mits, or in vi­o­la­tion of the per­mit rules. He out­lines a list of prob­lems, and I can­not dis­agree with any­thing he says. For me, the big­gest is­sues are that it is not le­gal and th­ese ac­tions sub­vert the fish­ery man­age­ment reg­u­la­tions put in place to make sure there are re­sources for the fu­ture. A lot of folks try to jus­tify their ac­tions as only try­ing to help pay for a lit­tle gas. I don’t care if they are buy­ing gas for their boat or gro­ceries for Aunt Matilda. It is short-sighted and stupid, and it is il­le­gal. Those get­ting caught should have to pay a price that makes oth­ers think twice about do­ing any­thing il­le­gal. This is di­rected at the re­cre­ational fishing in­dus­try but also ap­plies to the com­mer­cial fishing in­dus­try.

One of the most egre­gious se­ries of fishing-reg­u­la­tion vi­o­la­tions ever pros­e­cuted hap­pened in New Bed­ford, Mas­sachusetts, this past year. Car­los Rafael was found guilty on a num­ber of counts, such as mis­la­bel­ing fish to stay within his quota while sell­ing a higher-val­ued species that was in short sup­ply. He laun­dered un­told amounts of money and shipped much of it out of the coun­try, avoid­ing tax­a­tion and com­mit­ting mul­ti­ple vi­o­la­tions of fed­eral law.

In my opin­ion, he sent out a lot more than any­one but Rafael knows. He also only ad­mit­ted to four years of his mis­la­bel­ing scheme. Yeah,

right, and the check is in the mail. He reg­u­larly spewed vit­riol and ex­ple­tives at fish­ery man­agers while smugly say­ing, “Catch me, if you can.” Well, they did. As I see it, this il­le­gal ac­tion im­pacts all users of ground­fish re­sources.

As this is writ­ten, the fi­nal sen­tence was handed down, and the process gave Rafael another six months to con­tinue run­ning his busi­ness. His sen­tence is a trav­esty, a com­plete slap in the face to all hon­est fish­er­men. Crazy as it sounds, it was at the up­per end of what is le­gal. Why am I point­ing this out? Be­cause he is still be­ing al­lowed to keep some of his boats and per­mits. Does that make any sense? No! He shouldn’t be able to have any per­mits that have any­thing to do with the fishing busi­ness. Pe­riod. The pun­ish­ment should fit the crime that he ad­mit­ted to, and he ad­mit­ted to flank­ing ev­ery pos­si­ble fishing reg­u­la­tion.

I think the same prin­ci­ple should be used in cases against all com­mer­cial and “re­cre­ational” fish­er­men.

I am not propos­ing that ev­ery vi­o­la­tion be given the max­i­mum penalty. Those that are vi­o­la­tions of omis­sion should be treated less harshly than crimes of com­mis­sion. Some­one who know­ingly sells fish in vi­o­la­tion of per­mits they hold, both state and fed­eral, should have those per­mits re­voked for­ever. End of story. That should also be true for those who sell with­out any per­mits. As far as I am con­cerned, that should be true for in­di­vid­u­als right up to fishing-em­pire moguls like Rafael.

Too of­ten the courts are le­nient on of­fend­ers be­cause they don’t want to im­pact their abil­ity to make a liv­ing. When nat­u­ral re­sources are in­volved, it seems to be OK if the vi­o­la­tors im­pact a lot of other users who might also lose their abil­ity to make a liv­ing or recre­ate. Go fig­ure. Do the courts think the same about those who rob 7-Elevens for a liv­ing?

Fishing, com­mer­cially or recre­ation­ally, is not a right. It is a priv­i­lege. We know that most par­tic­i­pants in both re­cre­ational and com­mer­cial fish­eries do their very best to fol­low the reg­u­la­tions. So, when any fish­er­men vi­o­late the law on pur­pose, their priv­i­lege to ac­cess the re­sources should be taken away per­ma­nently. That is the only way to pro­tect the le­gal users of the re­sources and dis­cour­age those who are tempted to cut cor­ners.

When fish­er­men vi­o­late the law on pur­pose, their priv­i­lege to ac­cess re­sources should be taken away per­ma­nently.

CON­VICT FISH: Sheepshead aren’t the only ones that should be wear­ing stripes.

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