GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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October 5, 2011

Testimony belies NOAA's chief's claim on data

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco's staff Wednesday moved to correct the impression she left in Senate testimony Monday — that Gov. Deval Patrick's administration was delaying the delivery of research that might show the new catch shares management scheme to be an economic disaster for sectors in the groundfishery.

Such a finding is required for the Secretary of Commerce to order an emergency increase in catch limits.

Ultra-low catch limits, however, are widely cited as a cause of the hardship.

And preliminary data from the state — released before the start of Monday's Commerce Committee field hearing — has described one group of 32 South Shore fishermen that had lost 60 percent of landings, 23 percent of revenue in the new system and "nearly" half of them could not cover operating costs with gross revenues.

The "catch share system," according to testimony by the state director of marine fisheries, "has caused severe economic strain among the majority of fishermen, most of whom are small vessel owners."

At Monday's hearing, Lubchenco — in answer to a question from U.S. Sen. John Kerry - said "we made it abundantly clear many times, we are waiting on the governor."

Kerry had asked why NOAA continued to resist finding that the new regimen had proved an "economic disaster."

Amendment 16, which took effect in May 2010 and has involved a radical re-engineering of the economic system, organizes fishing cooperatives; these "sectors," as they are known, were allocated tradeable catch shares, as if part of a commodities market open to outside acquisition, investment and a consolidation of quota into the hands of large-scale businesses.

Midway through the first cycle of catch share/sector fishing, federal officials rejected a submission by Patrick administration and state university social scientists showing the consolidation of allocation, and what Kerry at the time described as an accelerating tilt in the unregulated market.

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