The Pew Environment Group yesterday urged the Obama administration to "go slow" on fishermen's catch shares, the economic system of fisheries management pushed by the Environmental Defense Fund and Jane Lubchenco, its former vice chairman, now the national administrator for fisheries.
"Do not make catch shares the default management system," said Lee Crockett, director of Pew's federal fisheries policy. "One size fits all is inappropriate and ignores local variability."
Pew made its pitch for a cautious, bottom-up approach to catch shares in a national teleconference.
In the process, the Pew Environment Group, a unit of a $5 billion philanthropy, was sharply critical of the Environmental Defense Fund, another alpha environmental nonprofit organization that had $131 million in assets in 2008 and has emphasized the power of investors in fueling environmental policies such as any conversion to regulatory catch shares.
During an hour-long press conference from Washington, Zeke Grader, representing an association of West Coast fishing groups, cautioned against allowing "free-market ideologues to run the show." He later acknowledged he was referring to Environmental Defense, which has been leading the charge for catch shares and simultaneously promoting the shares, options in the commodification of common resources, as an investment opportunity for hedge-fund managers.
An EDF vice president last spring advised an investors conference that catch shares futures would produce richly.
"It's not telecom money, but its real money," David Festa, a close associate of Lubchenco's, told investors.
Almost immediately after yesterday's teleconference ended, EDF posted a lengthy blog entry suggesting that Pew had its head in the clouds, comparing "catch shares to an ideal world that doesn't exist," and reported finding Pew's report on catch shares, "Design matters: making catch shares work" to be an "oversimplified and somewhat confusing analysis."
"The issue is not about ideology; it's about what works," Diane Regas, EDF's vice president for oceans, added in an e-mail. "If EDF has an ideology on this issue, it's that when fishermen, fishing communities, government and NGOs work together we can find solutions that work for people and for the oceans."
The catch share format is due to come to Gloucester and New England fishery next year. And here — at least in the groundfishery — the system has the support of both Big Greens.
Pressed by Lubchenco, the New England Fishery Management Council last summer quickly approved a long-planned, partial conversion of the groundfishery to catch shares beginning next May. Also in the works is converting the healthy scallop fishery to catch share principles — over the objections of small boat owners.
The catch share program in New England is fused to the creation of fishing cooperatives known as sectors, piloted by the Pew-subsidized Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, a mini-set of boats that have little in common with the fleets of Gloucester and New Bedford. Sectors were adopted as a "devil-you-don't-know" alternative to the ever-more restrictive effort control system that has been used to give fish some distance from fishermen while the entire biomass completes its recovery from centuries of overfishing.
Peter Baker, manager of the Pew's New England Fisheries Campaign, said the environment group had been frustrated by news articles that blended his organization with EDF and believed their differences over catch shares warranted making distinctions.
"We are not in lock step with each other," Baker said in a telephone interview. "The (New England groundfish) sectors were the only catch share system we were in favor of."
Lubchenco, who has deep ties to both EDF and Pew, had no immediate comment on the eruption of the dispute.
Lubchenco resigned as vice chairman of EDF — known for its penchant for merging investment and environmental principles — to become President Obama's nomination to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Once confirmed by the Senate, she unfurled her commitment to catch shares and drafted Monica Medina, a former NOAA chief counsel in the Clinton administration, from the Pew Environment Group to organize a national catch share task force. Its final report is on Lubchenco's desk.
Lubchenco's last important assignment in the nonprofit sector was her work on a policy paper, underwritten by EDF and written by Lubchenco, colleagues and her protÃ©gÃ©s that was constructed to launch the catch share movement. The paper famously invoked now-openly disputed scientific papers to make the case that the oceans are rapidly being denuded by overfishing.
The "Oceans of Abundance" report, "an action agenda for America's vital fishing future," asserted the existence of a "scientific consensus" that fishing is making it "increasingly likely to yield massive swarms of jellyfish" in place of food fish.
The paper went on to advocate for catch shares as the universal antidote.
"Catch shares, regardless of their form, have been proven to restore economic and environmental health to ocean fisheries," Lubchenco and her colleagues wrote. They tied the concept to investment returns: "The value of ... shares increases as the health of the resource improves."
Two co-writers of the "Oceans of Abundance" report were Christopher Costello and Steve Gaines, West Coast academics, who co-wrote the paper most often cited by catch share advocates — a 2008 paper in Science magazine that asked "Can catch shares prevent fisheries collapse?" The reported assertively argued "yes," based on the results in barely 100 fisheries with catch share histories out of the more than 11,000 surveyed between 1950 and 2003.
During yesterday's teleconference, Pew's Crockett cited the "Oceans of Abundance" report as advocating a top down universal.
"We don't think this is a good thing to promote as a national policy. It should be a more organic process rather than be imposed as national policy."
Speaking to a group of recreational fishermen who fear that catch shares some day will be imposed on their sector — none have been proposed to date — Lubchenco announced that the policy under consideration "would not require any (regional fishery management) council to adopt catch-share programs," according to an announcement yesterday by NOAA.
Instead, NOAA announced, the policy "will encourage councils to consider catch-share programs wherever appropriate in fishery management and ecosystem plans, however, to achieve long-term sustainability of our nation's fishery resources and fishing communities." That draft policy would go out to out for 120 days of public comment.
In a Sept. 4 letter to Lubchenco, Crockett, Grader and representatives of five other fishing organizations, argued against making catch shares mandatory.
"We are troubled by NOAA's seeming focus on catch share programs," the Pew letter writers said, adding that they preferred resources be used to create functional systems to insure that statutorily required annual catch limits and effective accountability measures.
"Given our nation's recent disastrous experience with the unintended and negative consequences of deregulation and poor oversight of financial and real estate markets," Pew wrote, "it is imperative that NOAA commit up front to establish rigorous monitoring, oversight and regulation of the markets that catch share programs will create."
Lubchenco is a unifying figure among scientists active at EDF and at the many institutions funded by Pew, which underwrite tens of millions each year in academic research. In 2005, Festa, Gaines and Lubchenco were among the lead instructors in a course on marine conservation and science at Lubchenco's base campus, Oregon State University.
Festa was a member of the Obama transition team for the Department of Commerce — parent agency for Lubchenco's NOAA, where he worked during the Clinton administration as director of policy and strategic planning. Festa advised investors at the Milken Institute in California that catch shares will produce profits in the range of 400 percent.
Festa and Lubchenco are longtime close associates. They co-bylined an op-ed piece in 2006 in the Washington Times praising "Bush, the environmentalist?" when the then-president created a massive marine conservation area off Hawaii.
Gaines, the director of the Marine Science Institute at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has been a prolific researcher, grants applicant and distributor and writer. He received his doctorate at Oregon State where his advisor was Lubchenco.
Richard Gaines can be reached at email@example.com