New Castle News

July 18, 2013

Our Opinion: When following rules fails to make much sense

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — One of the realities in life is that you are expected to abide by the rules.

Everybody knows this; rules help to ensure people are able to live within a society and generally stay out of conflict.

But rules ought to have a level of legitimacy. When there are rules that make no sense, or appear to be irrational and heavy handed, problems arise.

That’s particularly true in a free society such as America, where individuals expect to be able to do as they please so long as they aren’t causing any harm.

This brings us to the story of a leatherback turtle found earlier this month tangled in a buoy line in Nantucket Sound.

Two brothers came upon the turtle while sailing and managed to free the endangered animal. It turned out, however, their good deed was a violation of federal rules.

An official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spoke to the two brothers — who just happened to be Max and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of the Kennedy clan — informing them of their inappropriate conduct.

NOAA’s Division of Fisheries requires individuals who come across a leatherback in this situation to contact the agency to have an expert free the animal. Apparently, the rationale is one of safety: This particular turtle weighed about 500 pounds and anyone handling it could have been dragged under the water and drowned.

We can certainly understand that the government wants to protect people from harm. And we absolutely can understand rules designed to protect endangered species such as the leatherback turtle.

But to some degree, in a free society individuals ought to be able to assume certain risks of their own choosing. And had the two Kennedy brothers opted to get government help for the tangled turtle, how long would that have taken? And what were the chances the animal would still be alive?

As an aside, we note that NOAA is mainly known to the American public as the federal agency involved in the study of climate and weather conditions. We doubt that too many people would think about its rules when it came to trying to save the life of a turtle.

The Kennedys now say they made a mistake in rescuing the turtle on their own. We can’t help but wonder if what they really think is that they made a mistake telling anyone about it.

We can’t fault anyone for trying to save a turtle caught in line. And while it may indeed be reckless and inadvisable, it’s difficult to view it as a crime or something that ought to be punished.

The government should warn people against risking their lives to save turtles. But at the end of the day, people should make their own decisions.