Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fish and Game Dept. targets Asian Supermarket - Flawed Economics in Action

A daring sting operation has brought down another set of dangerous criminals in our midst. The proprietors of Great Wall supermarket (located about 20 minutes from where I live) have been arrested for selling "wild" sea animals including live frogs, crayfish, turtles, eels, and more. The store owners say that all of their stock comes from farmed sources, but that does not appear to be convincing the crusading Commonwealth bureaucrats.

Officer Rich Landers, of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, had this to say:
“History has show when wildlife becomes commercialized, the population dwindles,” Landers said. “Whether it’s elephant tusks or whales, we are trying to reduce the chances that wildlife becomes commercialized.”
Lets take a moment and think of a heavily commercialized animal population, like cows. We may have another disaster on our hands: the cow population is down to the lowest level since 1958, with only 92.6 million in the United States! An estimated 25 million cows are slaughtered each year. That means that in less than four years, there won't be any cows left in the United States. Savor your steaks while you can!

See what's wrong with this story? While commercialization allows animals to be consumed, it also creates strong incentives to rebuild the population for future consumption as well. That's why the decline in the cow population has been in response to reduced profitability of cattle ranching... not an ecological shortfall. Why would this be any different for farmed eels, turtles, or fish?

The historical examples that Landers uses are all cases where no one had ownership rights over the stock of animals being hunted, and therefore no reason to maintain sustainable population levels. That is clearly not the case here when we are discussing farmed seafood.

If anything, the proprietors of Great Wall should be applauded, for meeting consumer demand for uncommon (by American standards) foodstuffs. That way, Asian families can eat farmed eels etc. and do not have to catch them wild or import from abroad, potentially bringing exotic animal diseases to afflict U.S. ecosystems.

I won't go so far as to accuse the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries of racism or xenophobia, as I'm sure they'd be just as happy to apply their short-sighted and fallacious brand of reasoning to a predominantly-American grocery store as well. But, charging honest business owners with felonies, for selling live turtles and bass, does not inspire much confidence in either the agency's competence or its underlying motives.

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