Hundreds of salmon fisherman demonstrated on the Oregon coast earlier this week, calling for immediate federal disaster relief. A decrease in spawning by the Klamath River salmon — which resulted in lower populations than mandated by federal fisheries managers — led to the virtual shut down of commercial salmon fishing along the Oregon and California coasts. Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio (no relation to Laverne) likened the salmon fishermen as “farmers of the sea”, calling for Congressional support of aid packages.
This is not a disaster! I doubt DeFazio really believes these aid packages are necessary; he’s probably smart enough to realize that the forces of economics are actively dictating that some of these fishers should seek financial gains elsewhere, not relying on a dying or currently severely impaired industry. Unfortunately, the rabid pursuit of future local votes has clouded his (and other equally blind politicians’) judgment.
When the dotcom bust of Silicon Valley took its biggest toll from 2001 through 2003, you didn’t see groups of out-of-work software developers staging rallies in support of free federal aid. Your professional life and its successes and failure are all about the gamble of personal decisions: if you choose to be a software developer and live in the Silicon Valley, expect to be laid off and jobless during downturns; if you’re a farmer in the mid-West, expect economic hardships because of poor crop yields, insect plagues, or an oversaturation of the market; and if you’re a salmon fisherman, expect that fishing will be extremely limited in years after river waters have been diverted and dammed for drinking water and irrigation.
It’s not like this was a surprise. NOAA has projected for the past three years that wild chinook salmon from the Klamath River would return to spawn in numbers below minimums set by federal fisheries managers. The Klamath has been beset for years with problems over allocating scarce water between farms and fish, poor water quality and poor fish habitat. Four dams block salmon from 300 miles of river. And now there’s a shortage of wild salmon? Go figure…
The coastal salmon “farmers of the sea” absolutely should not be subsidized, which is what the requested aid packages really represent. Neither should land farmers. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that taxpayers shelled out an expected $26 billion in direct agricultural subsidies in fiscal year 2005. It is only the richest farmers that get subsidies anyway, and thanks to the current abuses in the system, now every farmer facing a mild economic disaster assume they have a divine right to free aid. Take, for instance, Riceland Foods in Stuttgart, Arkansas, the largest single recipient of farm welfare. In 2003, it received $68.9 million in subsidies for producing rice, soybeans, wheat, and corn — more than all the farmers in Rhode Island, Hawaii, Alaska, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and New Jersey combined!
New Zealand and Australia are doing the right thing and are setting an example the United States should follow. After eliminating subsidies, some farms have gone out of business as expected, but many others have changed their operations to meet other consumer demands. The result has been not a massive downsizing of the industries but a surge of innovation, productivity, and output.
Instead of demonstrating for free federal money, suck it up, stop whinging about how your family has been fishers for some arbitrary number of generations, and just find something else to do.