A Fine Kettle Of Federal Fish

On Feb. 9, members of the Fort Walton Beach Tea Party had an opportunity to listen firsthand to the plight of charter fisherman Capt. George Eller and how federal and state regulation threatens to ruin a large segment of what remains of Destin’s charter fishing fleet.

We responded as typical good citizens. Various proposals to fix the problem ranged from calling our federal and state representatives and urging them to support corrective legislation, to writing letters, to having face-to-face meetings with the chief Washington bureaucrat who caused this mess by issuing edicts with the power of law, a Dr. Roy Crabtree.

As useful as these steps may appear to be, they miss the point.

Limited government has become a thing of the past in our land of the free and home of the brave. Fishermen who supposedly have the right to own property, contract freely and enjoy the protection of the 10th Amendment, in fact, do not.

By bureaucratic decree supported by federal legislation and a Supreme Court ruling (Wickard v. Felburn, 1942, where the Supreme Court decided the federal government has a constitutional right to regulate how much wheat a Kansas farmer grows even on his own property for his own use), the federal government overrules the state of Florida in fishing matters. In turn, Florida overrules its own fishermen in the pursuit of their livelihood, forcing them to get permits and thereby placing limits on the wealth they can accumulate.

Neither the feds nor the state go out and sweat for fish; neither do they take on the financial risk of running a fishing company. But they are in a position to dictate how a fishing company must operate and share the catch.

Worse still, the feds and the state of Florida are controlled by legislators who have no direct stake in the success or failure of the fishing industry. To them, a fishing fleet is just one more source of tax revenue to be exchanged for any other.

It should not be this way. Limited government does not mean a government that decides not to interfere. It means a government that cannot interfere.

Individuals must succeed or fail on their own circumstances. The purpose of government is not to own businesses or grant favors but to protect individual rights.

There is a false enlightenment in America that thinks government control is necessary to prevent depletion of the environment or to ensure a steady market when individuals would ruin what they have.

As Capt. Eller made abundantly clear, fishermen have a vested interest in what they do, and they did selfregulate — either through moral persuasion, or by association contracts, or even by the power of the marketplace.

If depletion takes place, fewer fish means higher prices. Higher prices mean fewer fish are bought and sold, restricting the size of the fleet.

How is this different from what the government is doing now? The government is artificially restricting the amount of buying and selling of fish, resulting in higher prices and a reduction of the fleet.

Government regulation doesn’t ensure anything except a bigger government, and all it does is transfer the ability of Destin’s fishermen to run their own lives over to a government bureaucracy that must be bowed and scraped to.

The Tea Party must get more to the root of what ails us.

Peter J. Blome is a retired military officer and chairman of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County. He is also a member of the nonpartisan Fort Walton Beach Tea Party.