Looking Back with FishNetUSA: The case for Bureaucratic Monitoring Systems (BMSs)

Nils Stolpe http://fishnet-usa.com/ posted 04/12/2020
The case for Bureaucratic Monitoring Systems (BMSs)

A good friend of mine is a New Jersey gillnetter. An acknowledged highliner, he’s served and continues to serve on several state and regional advisory committees, has always participated in the management process, and has never received a NOVA or been convicted of violating any federal or state fisheries regulations. He’s the kind of fisherman the managers should try to accommodate in every way possible, because he and fishermen like him are the future of the commercial fisheries and the bureaucracy that has grown up around them.

Like every prudent fisherman, he tries to maintain every permit he can. One requires that he have a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. This is so that the enforcement people will know he isn’t fishing in an area seven states away where the use of gillnets or longline gear is seasonally prohibited. The assumption is, as with all commercial fishermen, that he is de facto likely to violate the closed area/season regulations; and the burden is on him to prove he isn’t.

It’s impossible to know his VMS unit is operating correctly without an on-board computer. He doesn’t have one and his unit evidently stopped transmitting. How did he find this out? Not by a phone call from NMFS, or a casual note or email asking that he get the unit checked and repaired (remember that the closed season/area that his boat’s being monitored for is several months and hundreds of miles away). Rather, he received a registered letter that in part read “please be aware the vessel should not return to sea with gillnet, or pelagic/bottom longline gear on board the vessel without first correcting the unit’s reporting problem.” Complying would have cost him perhaps a week’s worth of fishing, but it’s apparent that the feeling in NMFS is that’s a negligible price to pay to be able to prove to The Man that you aren’t breaking any laws or ignoring any regulations.

The justification for this “guilty until proven innocent” philosophy is that harvesting public resources is a privilege, not a right, and that you should be willing to accede to any conditions that “the system” deems appropriate, no matter how onerous they are, for this privilege.

This got me thinking, and one of the things it got me thinking about was all of those bureaucrats paid from the U.S. Treasury. The Treasury would seem to meet the criteria of a “public resource,” wouldn’t it? And, accepting that people are only people, we can assume that bureaucrats are likely to lie, cheat and steal at about the same rate as fishermen.

Hence, wouldn’t it be reasonable, in order to protect us taxpayers who try to keep the Treasury filled, to make it the responsibility of bureaucrats to prove that they are performing their bureaucratic functions where, when and how they are supposed to? While I never kept any kind of tally, it sure seems that more bureaucrats every year are caught with their hands in various illicit cookie jars that are fishermen caught fishing outside the regs. And the potential cost to the public of bureaucratic shenanigans is certainly greater than the cost of any imaginable illegal fishing.

So why isn’t the wearing, or perhaps implantation if that is a practical alternative, of Bureaucrat Monitoring Systems (BMSs), required as a condition of public employment? Perhaps as ankle bracelets a la Martha Stewart, and to be worn 24/7, 364 days a year. Every government job has requirements: hours worked, number and duration of coffee and lunch breaks, number of sick and personal days, etc. With required BMSs, we would know whether a bureaucrat on “sick time” was at home, at the doctors, in a hospital or on the golf course. We would know when a bureaucrat had exceeded the permissible time in the employee lounge or out of the building for lunch. With vital signs monitoring, we would know whether a stationary bureaucrat was at the desk working, nodding off or taking a nap. A bureaucrat would be hard pressed to pass off three days spent on a beach in Bermuda as a family emergency. Were a bureaucrat anywhere but home at 3:00 am on a weeknight, there’s a good chance he or she was engaged in some illegal or immoral activity, with all but guaranteed negative effects on job performance.

And, of course, if a bureaucrat’s BMS was on the fritz, he or she would be required to remain in the office or at the work station until it was operational again. If not, how would we taxpayers know that we were getting our money’s worth?

Now all we need is a federal bureaucracy in which to implement an experimental BMS. Any suggestions?

(in National Fisherman) 11/02/05