Welfare Pearls


Want to subsidize a local industry without making it obvious that you're subsidizing a local industry? Sen. Barbara Mikulski and other friends of the Maryland oystermen have found a way:

The mood was celebratory at January's annual meeting of the Oyster Recovery Partnership. Yet the government-financed nonprofit has made little progress toward its stated mission of restoring oysters to the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland officials set up the group more than a decade ago in what was envisioned as a groundbreaking attempt to revive a species all but destroyed by overharvesting and disease. Since 2002 alone, the partnership has received $10 million in federal funds to lead Maryland's efforts to make oysters an abundant, self-sustaining species again.

The way to do that, leading scientists say, is to leave the shellfish in the water so they can reproduce and propagate the species. But the partnership puts most of its oysters in places where watermen can take them out—and sell them for roughly $30 a bushel….

Though the partnership gets millions in federal funds, it operates with virtually no governmental oversight. The group gets the money as the result of a budget "earmark" arranged by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, and the grant is distributed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The complete report, by Rona Kobell and Greg Garland of the Baltimore Sun, is here. (Full disclosure: Rona's my wife.)