American Freedom?

Do you know that the recovery of several marine species historically overfished and at risk of depletion is “an assault on American Freedom?” Do you know that the haddock and summer flounder now readily available in your fish market case is subversive and a threat to the “American way?” Well, you know it now because the U.S. House of Representatives has voted this week to destroy the program that has enabled the recovery of six endangered species through a successful regulatory scheme called “catch shares” by which regional fish councils set overall limits on annual harvest and then apportion the catch among individual fishermen. 

Oh, and incidentally, by the same action, they voted against a long-overdue and publicly supported National Ocean Policy that would address myriad other problems that lie at the core of the continuing degradation of US inland and coastal waters and the deep ocean. But who cares about solutions? The leaders of this movement, Republican Representatives Steve Southerland of Florida and Michael Grimm of Staten Island New York, wrote in a letter to their colleagues that “catch shares are no different than any other inside-the-Beltway-style tactic determined to destroy every aspect of American freedom under the guise of conservation.”

So there you have it. To be a free American you must let every other American take anything they want, as much as they want, wherever and whenever they want, no matter that they exhaust the supply and deprive everyone else of what they may want in the future. Take all the fish now, why not? Take all the oil now, why not? Take all the fresh water now, why not?  Public policy, regulatory control, science – these are all inconvenient exercises designed by conspirators to deprive true Americans from consuming voraciously and indiscriminately, corrupting and exhausting supply of non-renewable resources, and otherwise destroying our way of life by trying to conserve the future need for food, energy, and fresh water that are essential to our survival. Who cares that we fish to extinction? Who cares that we destroy the land and waterways through indiscriminate, unregulated extraction and pollution? Who cares that we poison and exhaust the fresh water that each of needs in equal daily amounts to sustain our health and that of our children?

These positions are justified by high-minded expression of ideals. Get government out of our lives in every instance. Live free. But within this political view lies a fundamental commitment, not to individual freedom, but to selfishness, the gratification of oneself before anyone or anything, before our nation, our neighbors, or even our children and their children’s future.  This ideology denies the social compact, ignores any commitment to collective community interest, and serves as a cover for the cynical manipulations of vested interests who have no belief in the ideology at all other than as a tool for their unregulated exploitation. It is no accident that this vote was backed by oil companies and even by some recreational fishing associations who must have seen not just catch shares, but also any national ocean policy, as a threat to their short-term goals and gratifications.  Hard to see how the availability of my dinner haddock is a threat to sport fishermen, but so it goes in this time of anti-catch-sharing, in this age of me first, me only.

We are drowning in these politics. We appear to be losing any sense of ourselves as a collective bound together by democratic principles. Who are the real subversives in this situation? How do we protect ourselves from this corruption of our basic values? Is this how we really mean to define American freedom?

Consider the ocean, clear, clean, dynamic, and alive. But if we contradict our knowledge of the underlying system, if we pollute with sewage, chemical, or bad ideas, if we create a context for eutrophication, algae blooms, erosion, and coastal vulnerability, if we take or kill everything that lives therein, if we remove any action to protect or conserve the original condition, what have we done but to have willfully destroyed this astonishing life-serving resource in the name of nothing?

Does anybody care?

This episode of World Ocean Radio originally aired on May 22, 2012. Audio broacast available here.


Peter Neill, Director of the W2O and host of World Ocean Radio, provides coverage of a broad spectrum of ocean issues from science and education to advocacy and exemplary projects. World Ocean Radio, a project of the World Ocean Observatory, is a weekly series of five-minute audio essays available for syndicated use at no cost by community radio stations worldwide.