Every summer, the Gulf Coast attracts hundreds of thousands of vacationers from across the country, myself included. The warm, clear waters and white sand beaches bring sun-worshipers, and the bountiful marine life draws sport fishermen seeking adventure and a delicious catch.
But this year, the Gulf of Mexico is facing a political problem. The waters have become shark-infested to the point that many beaches are shutting down or closing to the public.
So how is this a political problem? No, the “sharks” aren’t code for rogue lawmakers—at least not this time.
This year, the federal government, in the name of environmentalism, shortened the fishing season for Red Snapper to a scant 9 days. The continual curtailing of the season has been mandated over the last 40 years in an effort to allow more Red Snapper to come to adulthood and strengthen the population, which had begun falling due to overfishing. While many fisherman say the Red Snapper population is the strongest they’ve ever seen, the federal government is still staunchly standing by the regulation.
So what to do Red Snappers have to do with sharks, and how is this one federal regulation possibly going to cause a ‘lost summer’ for thousands of businesses along the Gulf of Mexico? The answer is pretty simple: Due to the impossibly short fishing season for this fish, both commercial and recreational fishermen hurried to fulfill their quotas, and, in an effort to work as efficiently as possible, many anglers were cleaning their daily catches on the boat, and dumping the gooey parts overboard.
Spoiler alert: Sharks like fish parts, and they swam in to enjoy their feast.
Anywhere from 100–150 sharks were seen near Orange Beach, Alabama just this week, prompting the city to make it unlawful for swimmers to enter the water—a consequence of the insane fishing laws that people had to comply with.
Alabama, like many states, depends on tourism to fund a large part of its tax revenues. Because no one can go into the water, the sun worshipers stay home, the deep-sea fishing excursions dry up, the condos, hotels, restaurants, and attractions see their business plummet, waiters and waitresses see their pay plummet, and before you know it the whole summer is lost. Tax revenues plummet, leaving the state unable to fill the gap when all of these people find themselves without work. All this, even if the sharks clear out in a few days.
Unintended consequences much?
The government is kind of famous for the unintended consequences of its laws. So many of society’s ills can ultimately be traced back to a law or program that promised paradise for some, and delivered hell for others.
From prohibition bringing together bootleggers and baptists, to the war on drugs single-handedly funding violent cartels in Central America, to corn subsidies making high-fructose corn syrup so cheap (and us so fat), the government is on quite a streak.
It is extraordinarily important for us to preserve a healthy and diverse planet, but the government, as we learned last week, isn’t the best equipped to make that happen. Property rights and private entities can be much more successful as instituting the kind of environmental stabilization that we need long-term.