Taxman takes

Posted on Feb 10 2023

Sharks impose an unavoidable tax on most people who fish for a living. What’s worse is their collection times are random and their rates are…well…arbitrary and often exorbitant, to say the least. I guesstimate that at certain times of the year sharks take well over half of my would-be take in any given month. That’s not even counting the lost gear that often gets tangled up with the sharks’ take-away. I do occasionally get a return in the form of shark meat for dinner with a heaping side of delicious, personal gratification.

Fishing as a means of earning a living is already a pretty tough gig—predators in the water make it even harder. There are plenty of other costs of course—lost time, fuel and the general stress of fighting monsters—and the economic loss particularly for small scale (in my case one-, sometimes two-man) operations is significant. And yes, it is a tax and not a normal cost of doing business because it’s compulsory for one (although with some know-how and a few tricks-of-the-trade one can reduce the pay-out) and for another it’s unrequited—a bit off-topic, but a lot like unrequited love: maddening and often painful.

As a business venture on the small-scale model that I use (i.e., small boats with one or two handlines in the water at a time), fishing expeditions are a gamble; otherwise, they’d be called catching expeditions. Some days I hit the “jackpot” (relatively speaking, of course) and other days I wonder what in the world was I thinking? “I can be a fisherman,” I said. “It’ll be fun.” The highs and lows of commercial fishing are as sporadic as the weather and water conditions around Saipan—in one second jacked up with adrenaline-infused exhilaration and the next glossed over with foamy doldrums of an arid wasteland. In terms of money, the potential for a big payday is always in play like the pot in a poker game. There is some skill involved for sure, but ultimately still a matter of luck of the draw.

Even when you’re lucky enough to hit it big on certain days, there is still the matter of government taxes—the landsharks’ tax, if you will. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Business Gross Revenue tax for Agriculture and Fisheries is nicely capped at 1%, but that’s just the first bite. Setting up a roadside point of sale and selling as a general business can cost up to 5% of the gross income. Again, that’s just what the landsharks take off the top. Other actual costs of doing business (fixed or otherwise) can be prohibitive and, as nice and cordial as some of our government employees can be, the bureaucracy (often in the form of petty quibbles over and long wait times for printed permits and/or licenses) is my least favorite. Time is limited and precious.

I understand the need for taxes. I do. That’s what we need to sustain government and we need government to maintain order much in the same way we need sharks to sustain balance in the marine ecosystem. Our society without institutions of education or systems for public safety (for instance) would be in chaos, so I gladly abide in paying my share as required. For the record, I’m talking pennies when compared to bigger companies, but I imagine a penny from my dollar is felt a little more directly than a hundred pennies from the deeper, million-dollar pockets.

On a biblical tangent for today, a story of the widow’s mite comes to mind. No I’m not a widow, but I’ll stretch and draw the parallel as a single father (for attention, if nothing else because as Chamorro people say, “puti ti matendi”—I’m not sure about the spelling, but it basically translates to, “It hurts when I don’t get attention”…to touch base on the matter or unrequited love).

For those who don’t know the story of the widow’s mite: Amidst extravagant offerings by droves of rich people in a temple, a poor lady/widow gave two pieces of money called mites—a relatively small offering as compared to others, but a large one compared to what she has—drawing the attention of Jesus Christ himself who takes note and acknowledges her sacrifice. The general lesson is that it’s not the amount of money given that is important, but rather the sacrifice made in the offering and that God sees the sacrifice and “loves a cheerful giver.” There’s more to it, but that in a nutshell, is the moral of the story.

It’s not such a stretch to say that we all appreciate a cheerful giver. Wouldn’t it be nice if, for instance, love in all its forms was requited (I keep falling back on this word, so to be clear, I mean it in the context of reciprocating or understanding. The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines unrequited as “not reciprocated or returned in kind”).

Where was I? Oh, the taxman takes.

The sharks and tax collectors take what they want. Neither thinks to ask me what I’d like to give; in fact, I can only keep what they choose to leave in my hand. There’s really no difference in the sharks gorging themselves off the low-hanging or rather hooked, disadvantaged fish on my lines than tax collectors running amok with taxpayers funds. Let me put that another way. The ravenous sharks in our oceans that cherry-pick and eat more than they need off my handlines (because it’s easy prey) are of the same ilk as the gluttonous bureaucrats in bloated government who overspend or worse stuff their own pockets with hard-earned, taxpayer money. Given life such as it is for me, I have no choice other than to accept the natural order of things (which apparently means that ocean sharks will eat my catch and the landsharks will do whatever they please with my tax payments), so I do. I respectfully abide by the rules—my sacrifice, so to speak, for the greater good. But, wouldn’t it be nice if the ocean sharks would take just a little less each month and the landsharks would be more careful with what they take and use it ONLY for the greater good (in other words, reciprocate or requite with gestures in kind)?


Jim Rayphand is a former executive director of the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc. and recently ventured into a startup fishing business.


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