, Gloucester, MA

Fishing Industry Stories

June 28, 2010

'Green' activists take the wheel

How big-money enviro groups control America's fisheries

Two fishermen were hanged in effigy at a protest by a crowd of 300 outside the regional office of the federal fisheries service last October in Gloucester.

The mannequins clad in foul weather gear weren't the object of the protesters' anger. The target was the black-hooded figure presiding over the hanging.

That figure represented Jane Lubchenco, the scientist and environmental activist who runs the fisheries service as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The government lynching was an apt depiction of the fishermen's view of her impact.

"Not so far off from the truth, eh?" said Amanda Odlin, lead organizer of the demonstration, who owns a small-boat fishing business with her husband in Maine.

It wasn't supposed to have come to this — a chasm of mistrust as wide as Georges Bank separating the regulators from the regulated in the commercial fishing industry.

At her Senate confirmation hearing in March 2009, Lubchenco was hailed as a "bionic woman of good science." Her many awards included a MacArthur "genius" grant.

Lubchenco agreed with senators that a "seriously dysfunctional relationship" had poisoned discussions between fishing regulators and fishermen.

The time had come, she said, to create "a new climate of trust."

Seven months later, fishermen mannequins dangled off the back of a flatbed truck in Gloucester under a hand-lettered sign that read: "Betrayed by Government."

Activists take over

Jane Lubchenco came to Washington with an agenda that included a radical restructuring of the fishing industry, called catch shares.

It's a fisheries management plan that gives an individual fisherman or fishing cooperative a share of the total allowable catch of a certain species of fish — cod, for example.

In theory, catch shares encourage conservation because each catch share becomes more valuable as the species of fish recovers from overfishing and the government increases the total allowable catch. Critics say it's a system that privatizes what has been a public resource, threatening to drive out small, independent fishermen.

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