Sunday, March 04, 2007

How fishing in Sierra Leone can screw up the Cape

Following up on yesterday's post is an interesting story that relates to the title.  Two weeks ago was Ilona's birthday, and a group of us got together for dinner, bowling, and karaoke.  Thankfully the dinner and the bowling were at two separate venues.

Upon arriving at the bowling alley or "Alley-gators" as it is called, we were quickly divided into two teams.  I ended up on Darah's team, along with a "jordy" named "Tim".   "Tim" is in the British Armed Forces, and in between frames we got to talking about his service.  He just finished his stint in Sierra Leone, and was visiting Uganda before returning back home to England (or "gawn ‘om in his Newcastle accent). Where he was stationed in Sierra Leone was also the same military post as American soldiers.  The British Armed Forces, specifically him, was there to train soldiers in logistics, ranging from shipping materials, to tracking gas mileage, to tracking hours that soldiers have worked.  Basic infrastructure needs of any military.

Remember, Sierra Leone is one of the top three international diamond-exporting countries in the world.   The BAF is there in an attempt to kind of reconcile for past mistakes, win over the "hearts and minds" (BAF soldiers are not allowed to wear sunglasses, and have to travel with the car windows rolled down), and help stabilize the military through training and goods.  But when "Tim" arrived he could not believe the state of disarray the military was in.  Soldiers did not have complete uniforms, could not arrive on time for roll call due to living one to two hours away, and only having enough weaponry to cover one BAF unit for an entire country.  Needless to say it was a learning experience for him and the Sierra Leone soldiers.  He literally had to teach his men how to use a photocopying machine because they had never seen one before.  There are no computers, except donated ones, and therefore everything is still hand-written like the BAF did 40 years ago.

He also said that the Americans had donated three Coast Guard boats (I think it was coast guard, I had a couple drinks in me) to patrol the coasts to make sure that commercial fisherman were not violating the laws that prevent them from coming too close to shore.  Problem is, the military has no money to buy fuel to put into the boats, so they can only afford to have one boat patrolling 90% of Sierra Leone's coast.  From my best guess-timation, I think that the coast of Maine is just a little bigger than Sierra Leone.  As you can imagine, having one boat to patrol "Maine" makes it pretty easy for the Chinese commercial fisherman to violate these international trade laws. 

What do Chinese fishermen have to do with me? You ask yourself.  Well, let's try to think of this on a global scale.  Down in Maine the fishermen community is well regulated and diligent about their catches.  Some of it is sold locally, but I would bet the good money is selling fish internationally, even if it is through a middleman. 

Then there are the Chinese who are literally fishing the sea dry, violating international law, and driving the prices of fish down due to the fact that they are increasing the supply.  So in order to survive, not make a profit, our Maine fisherman now has to go farther and farther offshore, which therefore increases the danger, to find more fish to compete with the illegal Chinese fish.  And if he doesn't have a good catch, then he has less money to support his family, and less money to pay into the federal and state governments.  And since Maine doesn't have enough state tax money coming in because the Chinese are killing the fishing industry, the state government then increases the taxes on gasoline and tolls.  So now Maine, the self-proclaimed "vacationland", is actually now more expensive for you to go to than the Cape.  So you can choose to go to Maine, and spend more time in fuel, accommodation, and traffic-time, or spend the same amount of money and go to the Cape. 

Great news for the Cape right?  Except the Cape has a fisherman on it as well.  So instead of increasing the tolls, because there aren't any yet, you end up paying more for the little things, like a large pizza and a pitcher of beer, than you would back in Boston or NYC, because the local economy needs to make up the deficit of money from the fishing industry.

So maybe you skip vacation this year, and spend the summer sweltering in your two-bed apartment in Beacon Hill.  Only problem is, so did 300,000 other people.  So now the Cape is looking at a budget deficit because they didn't have the state taxes coming in due to the reduced number of summer employees.  Due to that reduced deficit, towns on the Cape have to make a budget decision on whether or not to pay the teachers, the police, or an environmental bill to keep the local oceans clean for swimming.  Hey, that's their problem not mine right? 

Wrong.  Because you can't NOT pay the teachers or the police or keep the water clean.

Don't pay the teachers; you get kids in juvy and dropping out of school because they are 1 out of 35 kids in a class and don't receive any attention, and guess who pays for the juvenile justice system?  You do. 

Don't pay the police, crime may increase, leading to an increase in insurance rates, therefore Cape locals have less money to spend in the local economy because they are too worried about a tank of gas never mind a new pair of sneakers.  This further reduces the number of businesses on the Cape, and even further depleting the tax-base. 

And if you don't clean the ocean, then tourists won't come because what's the fun in going to the ocean if you can't swim in it?  No tourists, no jobs, no taxes.  Ouch.

So now it is your tax dollars that their Congressmen and State Representatives are going to ask to "borrow" in order to keep things afloat on the Cape until next year, where they are predicting a BIG tourist season for 2008.  So now your $1 that was going to plow, pave, and maintain Beacon St is only 50 cents, and therefore doesn't receive the attention it needs. Due to the lack of funding, the plowing is reduced and car accidents in the winter increase, therefore increasing YOUR insurance rate even if you never got into an accident.

So while some politicians love to ramble on about how we need to only worry about issues at home, we actually do need to worry about issues abroad.  Since moving to Uganda I've become a true believer in the free-market economy.  Thing is, that in order for the global free-market economy to be fair it needs to be enforced.  And some people don't give a sh-t about the rules, and it is screwing up our lives back home.

Never mind the poor Sierra Leone fisherman who used to catch enough fish to feed and support his family (i.e. pay for a kid to go to school), but can longer catch a fish bigger than his forearm anymore because his carved-out tree canoe cannot compete with international fishing trawlers.  So he now faces a choice, does he sell the fish and hope for money to buy his family dinner maize and bananas again, or does he keep it and give his kids the protein they need to grow.  Because if the kids are in poor health, they are not going to go to school, and if they don't go to the school they're not learning, and if they're not learning they are dropping out and living home unemployed. If he is unemployed then he is not contributing to the growth of the tax base and GDP, further preventing the country from paying back loans given to them by the Chinese. 

Kind of messed up huh?

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