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February 5, 2010

NOAA budget shifts priorities

Spending plan nixes research funding for catch shares

The highlight of NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco's first new budget for federal fisheries is a $54-million investment in catch shares, the hotly disputed regulatory system that's set to take effect in New England May 1.

But, to maximize the size of the catch share fund, $6 million would be shifted from "cooperative research," and $11.4 million shifted from "fisheries research and management programs."

The budget makes clear that the administration is moving full speed ahead with catch share management, which regulates fishermen's work based on hard catch allocation figures, rather than by limiting their days at sea. A partial rollout will convert the strongest section of the groundfishery into voluntary fishing cooperatives called "sectors" that will share the total allowable catch based on landing histories.

"When participants have a secure portion of the catch," reads the Statement of Need and Economic Benefits in Lubchenco's budget submission to Congress, "they gain the flexibility to make business decisions that improve safety, enhance the value of their share and promote the sustainable fishing of the stocks."

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has been catch shares' biggest champion, greeted NOAA's catch share-focused budget with applause.

"This federal investment comes at the right time because under conventional management fishermen struggle to make ends meet and fish stocks continue to decline," Amanda Leeland, EDF's oceans policy team director, wrote on the blog for the organization, which promotes market-based solutions to environmental problems. "Fishermen are increasingly embracing catch shares because they boost profitability, wages, and safety."

But four responders yesterday thought otherwise.

Mary Beth de Poutiloff, a fisherman from Provincetown, countered that "fishermen are not embracing catch shares."

"This is evident by the protest in October in Gloucester, and the (Washington,) D.C., rally scheduled for Feb. 24. (It) boosts wages, profitability and safety for investors, but (not) for the fishermen."

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