A True “Whopper” of a Fish Story

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – English Proverb

By Bruce Kauffmann – May 15, 2020

Unless, of course, the federal government steps in and arrests that fisherman for violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act — or “Public Company Accounting Reform Act” — a law that tightened corporate compliance with public accounting procedures.  It was passed in response to the illegal corporate accounting practices of Enron Energy and other corporations.

John Yates, a commercial fisherman, was fishing in the Gulf of Mexico in August of 2007 when a federal agent working as a state conservation officer boarded his boat to inspect his catch of red grouper.  Of the 3,000 red groupers that Yates had caught, the federal agent found that 72 of them did not meet the federal minimum 20-inch size.  The officer gave Yates a citation and ordered him to bring the entire catch with him when he returned to port.

The next day armed federal agents were waiting for Yates when his ship docked, whereupon a second inspection found that only 69 fish were under the minimum standard.  So, Yates was accused of destroying evidence, the three missing fish (still leaving 69 fish as evidence).

Three years later, Yates was arrested under a provision in the Sarbanes-Oxley law that makes it a crime to “shred” evidence.  To be clear, “shredding” evidence under Sarbanes-Oxley meant corporations and accounting firms could not destroy — “shred” — documents and files to stymie federal investigations of potentially fraudulent business practices.  In their wildest dreams those who passed Sarbanes-Oxley never thought it would apply to missing fish.

A year later, in 2011, Yates was convicted and sentenced to a 30-day jail term, plus three years of supervised release in which he was unable to earn a living as a fisherman.  Fortunately, his appeal finally reached the Supreme Court, and in February of 2016 his conviction was overturned. Yates has resumed his career as a fisherman, although one with serious legal debt.

The larger point is that the Administrative State — that bizarre amalgam of petty, inscrutable and overreaching rules and regulations dreamed up by federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., which affect our daily lives and livelihoods, including fishing — continues to destroy liberty.  In 1955, the Code of Federal Regulations, which is a codified list of the rules and regulations issued by the executive departments and agencies of the federal government, was 17,989 pages long.   Today it is more than 180,000 pages long, comprising 235 volumes.  On average 4,000 new federal regulations go into effect every year, and to create and administer those rules and regulations, there are today some 450 agencies that are staffed by approximately 2.7 million employees.

Bruce G. Kauffmann – Thinking Out Loud