A commercial fisherman and federal official predicted yesterday that the New England fishing industry has a dim future, facing radical consolidation and the loss of "a way of life" that has existed for centuries without a "massive intervention at the congressional level."
In setting polices to implement mandates for catch limits in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act three years ago, the New England Fishery Management Council rushed through a series of pivotal decisions, including "an allocation scheme and management regimes," David Goethel told a congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C. The council serves as a federal legislative body in setting fishing policies.
The use of the "scheme and ... regimes" phrase was a clear allusion to the decision this summer, under a directive by the top federal fishery administrator, Jane Lubchenco, to rapidly phase-in "catch shares" — a top-priority national policy of privatizing the catchable common resources of the sea via the creation of a commodities market.
Only a congressional commitment to a buyout of boats and creation of a permit bank for surviving small fishing boat businesses will "stop the speculation of venture capitalists and private permit banks, which have already sprung up," he said.
Goethel was one of nine members of the fishing industry from various sectors and parts of the country to give testify yesterday at an oversight hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife.
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., is the only New Englander on the subcommittee. But many of its members, notably Congressman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., have taken leadership roles in Magnuson-related fisheries issues.
Pallone has led an effort backed by Massachusetts and Rhode Island colleagues to modify Magnuson-Stevens, adding flexibility to hard deadlines for restoration of stocks, an action that has been met with a national petition by the Pew Environment Group aimed at keeping Magnuson as written.