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June 9, 2009

NOAA chief steps up push for 'catch shares'

National oceans and fishing administrator Jane Lubchenco yesterday promoted "catch shares," the commodification of wild stock into negotiable rights, as the key to healthy future fisheries.

The topic and system of fishery management is at the top of the working agenda — at different stages of implementation and for different reasons — in both New England and Alaska.

Those regions also happen to be the bases for the two candidates for Lubchenco's appointment to be chief steward of national fisheries, the position of National Marine Fisheries administrator.

In a keynote address to an elite gathering on Washington's Capitol hill, Lubchenco — the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — spoke of the need to afix economic values to the solution of environmental problems, in the context of a blurring of the line between public and private interests.

She spoke from prepared notes for about 20 minutes at the start of the weeklong Capitol Hill Ocean Week symposium, which is sponsored by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, a philanthropy whose leading members are both environmental and industrial powerhouses, including Big Oil.

Lubchenco made a rhetorical bow to the gathering of a who's who of stakeholders in the oceans' future, quipping about locking the doors at the Reserve Officers Association building on Capitol Hill until problems were solved.

She described "catch shares" as a new direction, and converting the New England fishery into a partial catch share system is on the agenda for final approval of the New England Fishery Management Council later this month.

Beyond the spotlight, however, other forces were at work in Washington that may shape the fishing future as well.

Jim Ruhle, president of the Commercial Fishermen of America, has been lobbying Congress to decide whether the approach taken by federal fishery regulators, regulating to the weakest stock at the expense of optimal production from others was what they intended in the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act.

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