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November 10, 2010

Report: Cape group profiting off disputed catch shares

A small but influential association of Cape Cod commercial fishermen, granted access to a disputed, oversized portion of the harvest when the New England groundfishery was converted to a catch shares system last year, has been leasing out much of its allocation for profit, according to a market report posted by the government.

During roughly the first six months of the fishing season that began on May 1 — the start of the catch share system — the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association leased the rights to catch close to 2 million pounds of mixed groundfish from its allocation, according to the report of transactions.

The environmental group Oceana issued a statement Wednesday, calling the transactions "disappointing."

Oceana asserted that the "Hookers," which practice lower impact fishing with hook and line or fixed gillnets, were profiting by selling to mainstream fishermen who worked with trawl gear that disrupts the ocean bottom

But some commercial fishermen also saw transactions as a sign of the benefits accruing to the Hookers from the allocation decision by the New England Fishery Management Council.

The original allocation decision by the council, an arm of the federal government, was hotly argued at the time because the extra fish given to the Cape Cod group was taken from the allocation to others.

David Goethel, who was the only member of the council to vote against the overall management scheme known as Amendment 16 — and filed a minority report with Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke — said the government market report reflects the Hookers' transformation into fish "brokers."

"My argument all along was that we didn't take the time or put in the effort to equitably divide the fish," said Goethel.

His argument to Locke, which was rejected, was largely restated in a lawsuit filed last summer by commercial fishing interests — including the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford — that described Amendment 16 as illegal and unconstitutional.

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