There are No Fish in the Sea!

By Nick Carter

Recently, NOAA Fisheries, the federal entity charged with managing our fisheries, announced a one-day red snapper season for the South Atlantic. Recreational anglers from North Carolina to Florida will be allowed to harvest red snapper on July 12 with a limit of one fish per angler.

The date is subject to change if a small craft weather advisory is projected. Any change in the date of the recreational season will be announced in the Federal Register, Fishery Bulletin, and an announcement via NOAA Weather Radio.

Anyone familiar with the classic Monty Python sketches of the 1970s should read the following farcical exchange between federal fisheries managers and recreational anglers in a ridiculous British accent.

NOAA Fisheries: “There are no fish in the sea, so you may not keep any fish from the sea!”

Recreational Anglers: “But… look here, my good man, we’ve caught these fine, large red snapper from the sea. May we not keep a few to eat?”

NOAA Fisheries: “Impossible! Those are not red snapper! Our illustrious scientists who make the most wonderful models in all the land say there are no red snapper.”

Recreational Anglers: “Yes, they are red snapper. Look at them.”

Recreational Angler displays numerous fine, large red snapper.

NOAA Fisheries: “No! That is impossible! Our scientists sent out numerous envelopes by our nation’s fine postal system. Your fellow citizens who checked boxes on pieces of paper contained within those envelopes have indicated that there are no fish in the sea.”

Recreational Anglers: “But they are red snapper! Look at them. There are lots of red snapper that live near the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.”

NOAA Fisheries examines the fish being held by Recreational Angler.

NOAA Fisheries:  “Those are red snapper, you fool! You must not eat them. You must throw them back into the sea.”

Reactional Angler: “Why?”

NOAA Fisheries: “Because you have caught the red snapper that were not in the sea, and now there are no more red snapper in the sea. You must put them back into the sea, where they will make more red snapper. Only then may you keep red snapper to eat.”

Recreational Angler: “This is absurd! There are so many red snapper that the only fish we are able to catch are red snapper. May we not keep a few for our tables instead of throwing them back into the sea?”
NOAA Fisheries: “The Great Lord Magnuson-Stevens, who was ordained many years ago by this land’s finest troop of jesters, has decreed that our illustrious scientists and their wonderful models hold sway over all the fish in the sea. Pieces of paper returned to us in many envelopes indicate that you, Mr. Recreational Angler, have captured too many of the red snapper that do not exist and released them back into the sea. Now there are no fish in the sea.”

Recreational Angler is visibly irate but does not want to anger Lord NOAA Fisheries.

Recreational Angler: “So… You are saying there are no red snapper in the sea because I have caught too many red snapper and put them back into the sea? Yet there are no red snapper because there are so many red snapper on the bottom that I catch only red snapper?”

NOAA Fisheries unrolls a long scroll full of numbers.

NOAA Fisheries: “Do you see this piece of paper, sir! On this piece of paper is a spreadsheet prepared by our illustrious scientists, per decree of the Great Lord Magnuson-Stevens. This piece of paper indicates there are no red snapper in the sea! Furthermore, it indicates there are more red snapper in the sea than there have been in the history of such pieces of paper. You must now devise new methods to release the red snapper back into the sea.

Recreational Angler: “How can I catch and release the red snapper if there are no red snapper? How can there be no red snapper and more red snapper than ever all at the same time?”

NOAA Fisheries: “You may not keep red snapper! You may not catch red snapper, which are not there and are at the same time more plentiful than ever. Therefore, you may not release red snapper. But you must release red snapper, and henceforth you must devise new methods to release the red snapper you do not catch, so that there will once again be more red snapper in the sea than at any other time in history, which happens to be right now.”

Recreational Angler: “But… this doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

NOAA Fisheries: “We do not have any sense! We have graphs, and models and numbers and laws, which are all far superior than sense.”

Recreational Angler: “I heard what happened with my neighbor, The Gulf of Mexico. I think I’ll have a chat with my duly elected regional court jester.”

The room goes silent. NOAA Fisheries puts down his scroll, stands and magnanimously proclaims:

“You may keep one red snapper from the sea!”

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