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September 20, 2009

Catch-share rejections cloud talks

A move is afoot within the federal fishery management system to increase the protection of cod and pollock from the majority of the groundfishing fleet that has rejected the chance to join a cooperative or sector and participate in the "catch share" experiment now underway here.

The movers behind the tightening of cod and pollock restrictions are described only as "members of the fishing industry" by Patricia Kurkul, the federal regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

But their identities will become known by Wednesday afternoon.

That is when the New England Fishery Management Council, holding its bimonthly, three-day meeting this time in Plymouth, is scheduled to consider Kurkul's suggestion that the two-tiered system created to launch catch shares in New England in May 2010 needs fixing.

The Plymouth meeting arrives with the claims for catch shares under challenge from multiple sources, including Canada where EcoTrust Canada has challenged claims by the Environmental Defense Fund, where the catch share idea was created decades ago.

EDF believes catch shares will align investment influence with conservation aims.

Everywhere that catch shares have gone, rapid consolidation of the industry has followed. EcoTrust Canada objected to that aspect of the experiment in British Columbia.

Reducing the number of boats fishing is a national policy goal that catch shares are certain to bring about.

Jane Lubchenco, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "says a significant fraction of the vessels will need to be removed to make the fishery sustainable and profitable," according to NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen. "She thinks capacity reduction is necessary."

The gist of the problem for the creation of sectors — cooperatives of fishermen working under regulations based on their actual catch — and a common pool of fishermen — working under existing controls limiting their fishing grounds and days at sea — was the two sets of rules written in June during a marathon session in Portland, Maine, governing the competing sides of a fishery that had been engineered intentionally into regulatory schizophrenia.

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