The Problem With George or 
The Role of Development in Fisheries Management
Peter A. Larkin
(Marine Recreational Fisheries, 1984, Vol. 9, pp. 111-115)
Link to NJ Fishing Consumer Alert page Link to NJ Fishing Consumer Alert page
In spite of the fact that it was written almost fifteen years ago, this article is still right on the money regarding the "public be damned, these fish are ours" attitude of some recreational anglers, the businesses that provide for them and, unfortunately, some fisheries managers. 

[Link to FishNet USA #4for a FishNet that addresses a related fisheries management funding conflict]

The other day I received a letter from one of my former graduate students, a fellow named Sam. He now has the title of "Minister of Recreational Fisheries", or something like that, It is his job to see to the interests of recreational fisheries in his country, which is one of those countries that is said to be "developing." His letter gave me much food for thought. I pass it along, together with my reply, in the hope that it may stimulate others to give their thoughts on the issues that are raised. Here are some excerpts from Sam's letter to me. 

Dear Professor Peter: 

I am writing to get your advice on a matter of fisheries management. We have a problem which you never mentioned in your lectures and which, as far as I know, is not discussed in any fisheries textbook. I understand you are going to the Marine Recreational Fishing Symposium in Virginia in April. Perhaps you could get me useful comments from the assembled experts. Our problem has its origins in what I did when I was first given this job, so perhaps I should go back in time to give you the background. 

It was 12 years ago today that I gave my first talk to my staff. I called the talk The Three Cornerstones of Fisheries Management. It was a good talk, if I do say so myself, and just as you told me we should, I gave equal emphasis to protection, regulation, and development. The staff (there were only 14 of us then!) were really very excited when the talk finished and, borne along by their enthusiasm, I agreed to set up three exactly equal divisions in the Ministry. We didn't really realize what we were doing. There was no prior examination of options; no committees were established; there was no computer simulation and no consultation with other Ministries. On the spur of the moment, we just did it. 

At the beginning, everything went well. The Protection Division developed some good pollution control measures and the Regulation Division got on with hiring some field officers. There was nobody at hand to head up the Development Division, so we advertised and wound up hiring a bright looking young fellow named George. He had just come home from the United States, where he had taken his MBA degree at Succotash University. He seemed to have lots of energy and ideas. 

George started out by conducting what he called a market survey. He mailed out questionnaires, conducted interviews, and one way and another pretty well canvassed national opinion on what people were getting and what they wanted in the line of recreational fishing, He then analyzed all this information and announced four major findings; (1) there was a huge market out there to be exploited; (2) the major competitors were TV, spectator sports, and sex: (3) the best approach was an imaginative marketing campaign, followed by (4) a responsive Development Program (capital D, capital P!). 

I had promised him one third of the total budget and a free hand. I was loath to restrain him so, more or less automatically, I gave him the old gung-ho encouragement 

The results in the first five years were beyond my wildest expectations. His marketing campaign was sensational. Every schoolroom in the country had one of George's posters encouraging youngsters to enjoy the outdoors and to go fishing, Every small town had a sport fishing club. There were club outings of every conceivable variety almost every weekend, The public interest was simply unbelievable. Almost overnight George had unleashed a simply enormous latent interest in recreational fishing, George says it was all to be expected as it was simply a matter of making people realize what they wanted - "elementary," he called it. 

As you might have guessed, the explosion in the numbers or anglers created some pretty severe pressures for more recreational fishing, which meant either getting some of what the commercial fishermen were taking, or else creating some new resources. George was all for organizing a national referendum to restrict commercial fishing "to whatever was deemed surplus to recreational fishery needs". However, I persuaded him to cool it and concentrate on developing new resources. 

His division worked very hard at creating now resources. They built roads into inaccessible fishing spots, boat launching sites wherever there was likely to be sufficient demand, artificial habitat wherever it seemed needed, and all that sort of thing. 

George set up what he called a portfolio of diversified development investment opportunities. Some of his "investment" projects were pretty safe and a sure bet to produce a few fish for those with traditional tastes. You know what I mean - dugout ponds here and there, a series of put-and-take operations in urban settings, piles of junk out in the bay to attract some fish [Link to FishNet USA #4 artificial reef section], all that sort of thing. He watched to see whether they drew enough angler hours to warrant the investment and added more where it looked worthwhile. 

The riskier part of his portfolio was a wide variety of schemes which he tried for a year or two to see if he had a fit to what people wanted. If a scheme didn't work, George just shrugged and closed it off. For example, once got the idea of planting some of our lakes with largemouth bass. Our fishermen couldn't have cared less. George tried to drum up some interest by calling them golden brown trout, but even that didn't work. So he just gave it up and went quickly on to something else, George's slogan was, "Make an original mistake every day," and he had enough ideas that he could do just that. Of course, this all cost money and, by the end of our fifth year, George's division was using its full third of the operating budget plus quite a bit more He also got some special project money from the Prime Ministerís National Development Fund. 

All this action didn't go unnoticed by the other divisions of the Ministry. The Protection Division staff, particularly in the regional offices, became openly critical of the Development Division. They argued that you can't improve upon nature; that we should do better job of protecting what we have rather than chasing around developing new artificial environments. They even pointed out that one of the Development Division's fish hatcheries was a major source of pollution! 

To some extent, I was sympathetic with their arguments because they had done a great job of keeping estuaries safe for fish, providing fish passage facilities at dams, and all that sort of thing. But I couldn't really see that Protection and Development should be in conflict. As George said, Protection and Development go together like defense and offense on a football team. 

Much to my surprise, there were rumblings in the Regulation Division as well. They saw regulation as the heart and soul of management and behind my back I know they even called themselves the Management Division. They simply dug in their heels and said they had increasing problems in enforcement, not enough information for management, and not enough research. 

For all these reasons, they wanted more man years and budget funds, preferably at the expense, as they put it, "of those nitwits who add to our problems." They asked rhetorically if they were supposed to regulate the catch of all the newly created resources, too, or would the Development Division do their own "management." They were really pretty Sarcastic. I'm ashamed to say I threatened them by saying Iíd talk to the Prime Minister (who you may remember is my uncle). 

The next pan of Sam's letter went on at some length about his uncle and some of the internal struggles in the government. I'll skip that part and pick up again where he is back to speaking about George
With things settled down, George launched what he called Phase II of his development program. He observed that our country had very few tourists, far fewer in fact than those who leave here to take their vacations elsewhere. "The way to solve out foreign exchange problem," he said. "is to attract people here for their holidays." I told him that our country wasn't really noted for anything and that our fishing wasn't really any better than anyone else's. He said that had nothing whatever to do with it. 

His campaign was a huge success from the start. He helped to arrange special package deals with the airlines and organized some " great promotions (like the time he brought Dolly Parton here for some fishing). Before very long, be had fostered the growth of quite a thriving tourist sport fishing industry. You know how these things mushroom - first a few fishing guides working out of their homes, then a lodge is built and the guides work out or the lodge, Then the lodge starts promoting with special rates for chartered busloads and, before long, it's badminton and bridge, swimming pools and golf courses, gourmet meals and nightclubs. 

Itís always the same old story - a lodge owner makes his first profits as an agent for guides and tackle manufacturers. he finds he makes more money from providing board and room and booze. Eventually, he may find he loses money on the sport fishing but he still keeps it up front in his advertising as a sort of loss-leader with a special appeal for the guy who will pay the bills. 

Since George started his campaign, our industry has grown over ten thousand per cent and now accounts for over half of our foreign exchange cash inflow. What's more, we are getting large investments from the big chain hotels, the car rental companies. and that whole service industry that follows the tourist dollar. 

To all those people, George became a bit of a hero, but to others be was a villain. The commercial fishermen were extremely angry when the government passed a law that there was to be no commercial fishing within three miles of shore. But, as George said, it was really a very sensible way of getting the commercial operation out of the way of the recreational fishing. What they were really angry about was the large cuts in their catch quotas, but the three-mile limit was the salt in the wound that made them howl. In any event, the government was acting on the advice of the Regional Fisheries Councils where all interests had a chance to say their piece. Putting it bluntly, economics were on the side of the recreational fishermen. Our commercial fishermen wern't really justified in raising such a fuss. 

Within our Ministry there was a lot of bitterness and jealousy surrounding George, whose Development Division now had two thirds of the budget. The Regulation Division people were particularly upset by the way he oversold the resources. They bad more fishermen than they could handle, almost no hope of enforcing the regulations, and very little chance of getting a good fix on the total catch. They were operating a bit of a farce and they knew it. Consequently, they worked very hard to make it all sound far more rational and scientific than it actually was. 

In some measure, I felt sorry for them. Everyone likes to be able to do a good job. It is frustrating when you are doing a poor job, know it, but canít do anything about doing a better job. I've explained to them many times that to do a precise scientific job of managing a recreational fishery and enforcing the letter of all the regulations would mean we would need almost as many people in the government as were out fishing. We would just have to settle for something far less expensive. I've told them over and over that, if the public in general, and the recreational fishing public in particular, are given enough information about the resources, you can count on their social pressure both to do most of the necessary enforcement and to give you as much information as you need for management. They listen to these arguments, but they still grumble. 

The Protection Division isn't as hostile as it once was. The importance of fishing to the tourist industry made it a lot easier to bring pressure to bear on anyone who was endangering the resources, or anyone even thinking of something that might endanger the resources. Nowadays, anyone who even says 'Nuclear Power Plant' in this country gets a tough ride. 

Sam's letter here goes into a long aside on some of his country's problems in getting enough cheap electric power. It is a very serious problem, and to a considerable extent it has become a problem recently because of the demands of the tourist industry which George built. It's ironic when you think of it - sport fishing creates a shortage of power and then suffers if more power is produced. As the old saying goes, "The world is a system - if you kick anything hard enough, you will feel it in the seat of your pants!" Here is the last part of Sam's letter, which poses his problem. 
You may well be wondering why I should say I have a problem in fisheries management, especially concerning George. He has been responsible for building out marine recreational industry into what it is today, The problem lies in what he wants to make of it in the future. For Phase III, George wants to make a big push into what he calls our "Golden Age of Recreational Fishing." 

"For starters," he says, "we will consider all species of fish as Game fish [Link to a discussion of the economic worth of GAMEFISH]. Anything that can be caught on a hook and line is potentially a lot of fun. What we will have is a research program on how to catch anything we don't now catch. Once we learn how to catch it, we make a big noise about it and right away there's a whole new industry in the special tackle you need to do this new kind of fishing. Think of herring, for instance: people could fish for herring on superlight casting gear, and you know how many herring there are in the ocean. And there are hundreds more species out there. Each could have a special cult of anglers that were specialists. Think of it - United Lumpfish Anglers. South Coast Menhaden Fishermen . . . the opportunities are endless. 

The beauty of it is that every time we bring in a new kind of fishing for something or other, we have saved ourselves the need for increasing the supply of what we used to fish for. It's development by adding to what the anglers are looking for. Once you get the point of it all, it opens up a whole new-world. All the commercially caught species, for example, think of how many thousands of hours of enjoyment there are in catching all those fish one at a time. As a matter of fact, you don't even have to catch the fish, just swim around in SCUBA gear and look at them, or take photographs or whatever, which means that a whole lot of "anglers", if you can call them that, get enjoyment out of the same fish. It isn't a question of how many fish we have, but how many of these marine recreationists we can stuff into the water. 

"Another thing we need," he goes on, "is more competitions for every thing you can imagine [Link to Fishing Tournaments page]. We can have statewide prizes - you know, a cup and lots of great big ribbons like they give out at horse shows, all donated by the tackle manufacturers. Another whole set of competitions for the tourists. One for every species!" For 1992, we should be planning a world fishing competition (to be held here, of course), and every four years thereafter - big prizes for that. 

George raves on and on in this sort of vein almost every day. His computer model projects that by the end of this century our gross national product will be four times what it is today, that marine recreational fishing will directly or indirectly account for 50 per cent of our employment [Link to an examination of the economic contributions of angling]; the rest will be mostly civil servants, school teachers, and bankers; He says the upper limit is fixed only by how many people we can cram into the country. 

George's model is based on the assumption that marine recreational fishing can be sold as recreation to anybody, and that the supply can always be made to meet the demand by changing the rules which, when you are George, seems reasonable. The Protection and Management Divisions, needless to say, are almost speechless when George gets going. Frankly, even I'm beginning to think George has been getting a bit too much sun lately, if you know what I mean. 
In a word, George has become a "problem." He is putting great pressure on all of us and he is lining up a lot of support from his friends in the recreational fishing industry. But I really doubt if he has it right. Is there no such thing as over-development of a recreational fishery resource? Isnít it possible to put too much effort into development, to get too many people involved, to build too big an industry around sport fishing, to make it too big a factor in our national way of life? I took forward to your answer, which I hope will come soon. 

With best regards.  Sam 

P.S. I have told George that I am writing to you and he offers you an expense-paid fishing trip so you can come and see us at first hand before giving an opinion! 

I have decided that after this symposium I will go to visit Sam and George to give them my advice. 
Peter A. Larkin, Ph.D., was a Canadian fisheries biologist who had established an international reputation for his studies on the management of salmon populations. He was a former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, and a member of the National Research Council of Canada. He was also a professor in the Institute of Animal Resource Ecology at the University of British Columbia, and associate vice president for research.
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