When the House passed a bill earlier this year proposing changes to the nation’s fisheries law, the Magnuson Act, the vote went straight down party lines. YEA votes were 98% Republican, with only 5 Democrats on board. That seems like business as usual for Congress these days, but it wasn’t always so. The two previous renewals of the Act, when Congress adopted strict anti-overfishing mandates the House bill seeks to weaken, had broad bipartisan support, with Rs among the key sponsors of reform. But ocean conservation is just another casualty of the ideological divide between “liberals” and “conservatives.”
I am bewildered by those who force concern for the environment into their own polarized world view. I am baffled by people who think giving more than lip service to environmental protection is somehow the domain of liberals. I think I’m like most Americans — liberal on some things, conservative on others — and I happen to think my attitude toward the environment, if it must be categorized, is quite conservative.
Individual choice and self-reliance are hallmarks of being a true conservative, and it is these characteristics that make so many outdoorsmen and women conservationists. The quality of our lives depends, equally, on the range of choices we have and the freedom to choose among them. Letting some special interests despoil the environment — our environment, the only one we have — for their own gain is an abuse of this freedom, because it reduces the choices available to the rest of us and to future generations.
Recently, the Administration’s move into ecosystem-based fisheries management has come under fire as a “radical environmentalist” threat to the fishing industry and the economy. Nonsense. Fishermen who’ve seen firsthand how years of overfishing have disrupted food webs and how warming waters are affecting species behavior and survival understand it’s the only way to deal with these longterm threats to wild fisheries and the coastal communities that depend on them.
Climate change magnifies the effects of fishing activities on vulnerable populations, while shrinking our margins for error. We can already see impacts on individual species, but we must look to the relationships among species to determine how it affects marine communities — and, in the end, fisheries. Only by taking an ecosystems approach can we maintain the diversity, stability and resiliency that will help insulate fisheries and our dependence on them from the impacts of warming oceans.
What happens when we don’t carefully conserve and manage fisheries and protect the ocean environment? It’s a conservative’s nightmare. Fishermen go out of business, the government tightens regulations, taxpayers shell out hundreds of millions of dollars and — not least of all — it erodes our individual freedom to fish. Let’s face it. Freedom that actually empowers the individual must restrict certain choices in order to enhance the choices and opportunities open to everyone, Republican and Democrat alike. When it comes to wild oceans, everyone should be conservative.