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November 19, 2011

Fishermen's 'catch share' letter sparks furor

A letter from 109 New England groundfishermen advocating for the regulatory status quo set off a fierce, internecine war of words Friday between haves and have-nots in catch share fishing allocations, leaving the mayors of Gloucester and New Bedford surprised and dismayed as well.

Rhode Islander Tina Jackson, president of the American Alliance of Fishermen and Their Communities and a fierce opponent of catch share commodification, which typically brings with it the fleet consolidation New England is experiencing, said the drafters of the letter "have started a war."

New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang called the signers "collaborators," fishermen willing to validate an inequitable system for a price.

Facilitated by officers of influential industry groups — including members of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition — the letter signed by the 109 fishermen, roughly a quarter of the current New England groundfishing fleet, included 15 from Cape Ann and asserted that elected officials, while responding to minority calls "amplified in the media," have put their businesses at risk with "a series of increasingly dangerous proposals."

These include accumulation caps, setting aside community quota, putting limits on trading catch shares across vessel and gear-type categories, according to leaders of the seafood coalition, which, since its 2002 founding, has grown to become the largest industry umbrella in New England.

Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk said she was surprised by "many of the names on the letter supporting catch shares."

"The catch share system is collapsing," said Lang in a telephone interview. "What would motivate the fishermen to write the letter saying catch shares are fine with us?"

He said he guessed the answer was that the signers for the most part were happy with the allocations they got in June 2009 when the New England Fishery Management Council chose various past catch histories as the measure for groundfish catch shares.

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