In a big victory for commercial and recreational fishermen on the Atlantic coast, the U.S. Congress on April 14 voted to defund the “catch shares” program, a controversial fisheries management initiatives that opponents deemed wasteful.
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, said the program had been “blocking access to fish for thousands of smaller-scale fishermen, destroying their livelihoods and our coastal and fishing communities.”
Implemented on both the U.S. east and west coasts, the catch shares program was a pet project of Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and an administrator at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), essentially privatized public trust resources by concentrating ocean fisheries in a few corporate hands. The amendment, offered by Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina, is part of the FY2011 budget that President Barack Obama signed into law on April 15.
“Unfortunately, this unfair program, known as catch shares, has already begun consolidating the fishing industry on every coast,” said Hauter, echoing activists’ concerns that the recall was too little, too late. “It is shocking that, while thousands lost their jobs in the worst recession in decades and the nation debated spending priorities, our government wasted millions to hand our fisheries over to mostly larger-scale, often corporate, industrialized fishing operations. It is an outrage that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—the federal agency tasked with conserving and managing our living marine resources—requested a whopping additional $36 million to fund programs that would further industrialize our seafood and put even more fishermen out of business.”
Carolyn A. Kirk, Mayor of Gloucester, Massachusetts, also applauded the passage of the Jones amendment.
“As much as anything, a budget document is also a policy statement,” said Kirk. “The clear message in the passage of the Jones Amendment is that the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and President have registered their disagreement with catch shares as a national policy.”
Congressman Walter Jones (R-North Carolina), called the revocation “a shot in the arm for fishermen and a shot across the bow of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The last thing our government should be doing in these economic times is spending millions of taxpayer dollars to expand programs that will put even more Americans out of work. NMFS would be wise to take heed of the opposition of fishermen, the public and the Congress to their catch shares agenda; we’re not going away.”
Supporters of the amendment include the Recreational Fishing Alliance, American Sportfishing Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Saving Seafood, Southern Shrimp Alliance, Commercial Fishermen of America, Southeastern Fisheries Association Inc., North Carolina Fisheries Association, Garden State Seafood Association, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association, Long Island (NY) Fishermen’s Association and Food & Water Watch.
Jones’s amendment received bipartisan support from Massachusetts Democratic Representative Barney Frank, New Jersey Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown and New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.
The catch shares program presents a threat not only to commercial fishermen but also to the recreational fishing industry, according to Pallone.
“I have expressed considerable concern over the impact that catch shares may have on the recreational sector,” said Pallone, a strong opponent of GOP and Obama administration plans to expand offshore oil drilling on both coasts. “I believe our priority should be improving the science and management of fisheries and that promoting another management tool until those issues have been fixed will only continue to hurt our coastal communities.”
“Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) activists had spent the third week of February visiting the offices of federal legislators claiming erroneously to represent the interests of U.S. fishing communities while promoting their ‘Catch Share’ manifesto with Members of Congress in an effort to limit overall public access to coastal fisheries,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA).
Lubchenco claims the catch shares program is designed to better manage fisheries.
“From Florida to Alaska, catch share programs help fishing communities provide good jobs while rebuilding and sustaining healthy fisheries and ocean ecosystems,” said Lubchenco. “Although this is a national policy, our emphasis is on local consideration and design of catch shares that take into consideration commercial and recreational fishing interests.”
Both West and East Coast fishermen strongly disagree. On October 28, 2010, the Crab Boat Owner’s Association, Port Orford Ocean Resource Team and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations filed a lawsuit against the U.S Department of Commerce to halt the catch shares plan on the West Coast, fearing it would consolidate fishing fleets, privatize public fishing resources, deny fishing access to in adjacent waters and eliminate jobs.
“We had no option left us,” said Larry Collins, a San Francisco fisherman and president of the Crab Boat Owners Association. “If we didn’t act to stop this travesty, ownership of the resource will consolidate into the hands of a few operators in a few ports along the coast, leaving many coastal fishing communities, including our own Fisherman’s Wharf, with no access to our own local fish.”