Marine Natural Resource Crime and Punishment
It seems a crime for students to debate federal marine natural resources policies all year without addressing overcriminalization. According to Five Solutions for Addressing Environmental Overcriminalization, “Texas has 11 felonies related to oyster harvesting.” Couldn’t Texas get by with just four for five felonies related to oyster harvesting? Or maybe oyster-related infractions of state laws shouldn’t be felonies at all.
Debaters should be skeptical of any federal law proposed to supersede state law. But federal legislation to protect citizens from overzealous state and federal police action seems more reasonable. State laws to criminalize homeschooling should be superseded by federal law and the Constitution.
It’s true that oysters can’t defend themselves, but maybe restitution or restorative justice is a better legal response to oyster infractions than retribution. The restitution principle to “make the victim well again” could well serve oysters, and oyster consumers. Those charged with violating oyster regulations would be called upon to restore oysters or oyster habitat. So violators could provide their community service time with oyster habitat restoration groups like SCORE.
‘Ground zero’ for state-level overcriminalization is the Gulf Coast area of the United States. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida all border the Gulf of Mexico and between these five states alone they have passed nearly 1,000 laws criminalizing various coastal activities… (Source)
Federal EPA regulations are a source of new regulations with criminal penalties. EPA has apparently created 1,900 new regulations during the current administration (no new legislation needed!).
However FWS is generally after people rather than predatory wildlife. Deroy Murdock writes on the militarization of police and federal agencies:
[A]rmed officers, if not Special Weapons and Tactics crews, populate these federal agencies: the National Park Service; the Postal Inspection Service; the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; the Bureaus of Land Management and Indian Affairs; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the Fish and Wildlife Service. (Source)
In addition, U.S. businessmen can also violate regulations of other countries and those violations can send them to prison in the U.S. So a seafood importer is sentenced to jail for importing lobsters in the wrong container, in violation of Honduran regulations. (Video and story from Heritage blog post.)
More on Texas oyster crimes:
Adjusting for the seeming duplications and near-similar felonies knocked the oyster-tied felonies in state law to 11: theft of oysters placed on a private seabed; interfering with an oyster buoy or marker with two previous convictions; oystering in a restricted area as designated by the state; night dredging of oysters; night dredging in a restricted area with a previous conviction; night dredging in a polluted area; not having an oystering license; harvesting oysters for non-commercial purposes without a license; harvesting oysters without a commercial license; selling sport oysters; and violating oyster regulations.
By telephone and email, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department official confirmed the felonies, though Brandi Reeder, the agency’s fisheries law administrator, stressed that a person could be charged with each felony only if they have been convicted of similar misdemeanor violations in the previous five years–sometimes just once, in other cases two or more times, according to the relevant statutes.
At our request, Reeder reviewed our identified 11 felonies, later saying by email that she would say there are seven distinct oyster-related offenses or crimes. (Source.)
Further thoughts on reforming marine natural resource policies
Through some seventy earlier posts, I’ve suggested that economic freedom and rule of law institutions can better address marine natural resource problems. Federal reforms that take steps to get state and federal regulations and bureaucracies out of the way of entrepreneurs, enterprises, innovation and commerce would better serve more Americans (with more seafood as well as more justice and prosperity).
Such reforms aren’t always easy or obvious. Developing clear and enforcable property institutions along shorelines, coastal waters, miles out to sea and miles under the sea involves disciplines, from law and economics to politics and intellectual history.