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November 4, 2010

NOAA affirms catch share push in face of industry fire

The Obama administration Thursday formalized its commitment to a national "catch share policy" — a system already drawing fire from fishermen, and one which NOAA's chief administrator has said will bring a significant new reduction in the size of the fleet.

Already in place in more than two dozen U.S. fisheries within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone along three coasts, catch shares have almost always triggered hyper consolidation of the number of boats and businesses, with fishermen encouraged to buy, sell or trade their "shares" of an allocated catch limit to other fishermen — or outside corporations and investors.

Catch shares are also the subject of two industry-driven federal lawsuits, on the west and east coasts — including one including the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford as plaintiffs.

For its fanfare in Thursday's announcement, a national the catch share policy mandates nothing.

The federal Magnuson-Stevens Act reserves for the eight regional fishery management councils the authority to decide on management systems for the dozens of distinct fisheries which often overlap and interweave with each other.

But National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco, who served as vice chairwoman of the Environmental Defense Fund — the prime designers of catch share management — before taking the NOAA post, has demonstrated a hands-on commitment to advancing the reach of catch shares.

Within days of taking office, she traveled to New England to successfully challenge the regional council to complete work on catch shares without delay.

And soon after her confirmation by the Senate in early 2009, Lubchenco said her goal was to see a "sizeable fraction" of the fishing boats removed — a job-cutting plan that as drawn fire from state and federal lawmakers and leaders in several fishing communities, including Gloucester and Mayor Carolyn Kirk.

The 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act required the government to enforce catch limits, and debate has raged over claims by the administration that catch shares advance conservation.

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