The Great Crawfish Raid
July 13, 2003
In Feb. 28, 2002, I wrote a 500-word editorial for the Review-Journal, headlined: "A free-market solution: Lobster rancher finds hope in gaps between the regulators."
"Among the sagebrush and baked brown mountains along U.S. Highway 95, between Tonopah and Hawthorne in west central Nevada, lies the lonely hamlet of Mina," it began.
"This is mining and cattle country. Had been for a century and half, anyway. In fact, Bob Eddy and his wife Pam used to ranch cattle.
"But the cattle business is heavily regulated by both state and federal governments, especially in states such as Nevada, where most of the range is government-controlled. ...
"Tired of federal rules and boom-and-bust beef prices, 59-year-old rancher (Eddy) went searching for a new career seven years ago. He found he could sell lobster for $14 a pound. Thus was born the Desert Lobster farm -- marked with those prominent `Lobster Crossing' signs along U.S. 95 -- where the Eddys now raise half a million blue and red Australian freshwater lobsters, in tubs full of 80-degree water pumped from nearby hot springs.
"Eddy sells his entire crop -- fresh and ready to boil -- to travelers driving by on the road from Las Vegas to Reno (4,700 cars a day) ... though he has plans to eventually open a lobster restaurant in Mina, a town of about 100 that's been moribund since the mine shut down. `With the beef,' he says, `you might get $1 a pound versus $14 for the lobster. That's the economics. ... I got rid of the cows.'
"There's hope in Bob Eddy's story, which teaches us that -- so long as there remains some field of endeavor free of state and federal regulation -- the entrepreneurial instinct can still find a way."
And then came the final paragraph:
"Let's just cross our fingers that the state and federal inspectors don't show up soon, handing the their newly-devised `Lobster Ranch Permit Application' forms, insisting he change the temperature of his pots to meet some newly devised bureaucratic standard, levying their newly dreamed-up taxes and fees, all to `protect the children of Mina' ... who in fact are likely just hoping he will hurry up and open their restaurant so they'll have someplace to earn some gas money."
As it turned out, It took them a little less than a year and a half.
The Nevada Division of Wildlife boys roared in Thursday -- 10 armed game wardens, two of the plainclothes guys in black shoes and black sunglasses from the "Nevada Division of Investigation," assigned to take care of any troublesome neighbors, and two state biologists assigned to seize and destroy all of Bob Eddy's crawfish.
For violation of his state lobster ranching permit, duh.
"At this moment we are in fact closing him down," Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy told me Thursday afternoon. "At this moment we are down in Mina with some of our law enforcement people and we're going through the process of destroying the Australian red claw lobsters."
What kind of compensation will the 60-year-old rancher be paid for the stock that comprised his livelihood -- for a business he built up over eight years -- I asked.
"I don't think we anticipate paying Mr. Eddy for those. He had originally agreed to abide by regulations of aquaculture that are established by our wildlife commission -- he had said he would not sell them live. They are a prohibited species because they have a propensity for dominating warm water springs, in some of our sensitive areas where we have warm water spring fish they could do considerable damage if they were to get into them, alive."
Mr. Healy explained that although there are plenty of wild crawfish in Nevada. those are coldwater crawfish. "If you were to put a crayfish from the Truckee River into one of those hot springs it would be dead nearly instantly. These crayfish come out of Australia and they thrive in warm water and they would pose a threat."
No additional criminal prosecution is envisioned, unless Mr. Eddy tries to go back into business, Mr. Healy said.
As it happened, I talked to Bob Eddy the day before the raid.
"I have a license," he told me. "What they did was put a bunch of restrictions on my license. I told them I couldn't live with it, 'cause one restriction is I can't sell them live unless whoever buys them goes to Fish and Game and gets a permit. And the restaurants won't go to Fish and Game to get a permit because they've had enough of permits. ...
"The funny thing about this is they knew I was here in 1996, and they didn't do anything about it till 2003. ... You look in that `Fisheries of Nevada' book that was published in 1962, and it says that back in 1909 they planted all the crayfish in the state of Nevada, even the crawdads we have they planted 'em; they thought it was a good thing. The little ones are a food source for the bigger fish; you can use 'em for fish bait. ...
"They're trying to put me out of business. ... There was nothing here where I'm living on this side of the valley. Even now, not selling 'em, there's still 10 or 12 cars a day stop here just to look."
And so little Mina goes back to being nothing but a speed trap.
Did I mention the Great Crawfish Raid took place the same day the Nevada Supreme Court threw out a constitutional amendment -- passed by 78 percent of Nevada voters -- that required a two-thirds legislative majority to raise taxes? They said it might restrict school funding.
Land of the free, home of the brave. Pay up, shut up, know your place, go on the dole.
Vin Suprynowicz, the Review-Journal's assistant editorial page editor.
His column appears Sunday.
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