A key U.S. House committee's decision 10 days ago to cut $32 million from the Obama administration's funding request to further expand NOAA's fishery catch-share system — essentially converting wild fish stocks and fishermen's catch quotas into investor-ready commodities — is renewing a fierce ideological and political battle.
It pits small business interests from the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts against Washington's government and non-government elites in a struggle that some say recalls the 19th century's industrial expansion at the expansion of America's indigenous peoples.
And it features a growing cultural clash between educated elites behind the twin green banners - for the environment and Wall Street - and fishing businesses and communities who do want their industry consolidated or bid and bought by investors.
The anti-catch share coalition in Congress includes some of the president's closest Democratic allies on other issues as well as conservative Republicans. They agree that jobs are being lost — or worse, destroyed to make commercial fishing profitable for the lucky holders of the shares when the transformation is complete.
Indeed, the architect and prime sponsor of catch shares, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco, has said one goal of the program to see "a sizeable fraction of the fleet" eliminated — leaving fewer holds to convey the same quantity of fish to market.
Now, anti-catch share forces led by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, are preparing to build on surprising victories in the 2011 budget cycle and push for a legislative ban on catch share programs. But Lubchenco and her allies in the Environmental Defense Fund, a group of grant-giving foundations arrayed around EDF and its fishing proxies, and Wall Street partners all stand in the way.
With at least $30 million in operating capital from Wal-Mart's Walton foundation among others, EDF, which holds catch shares out as a panacea for conservation and economic efficiency, is deeply invested in the fight to protect a policy that has already converted the New England groundfishery, where opposition and job losses centered on the port cities of Gloucester and New Bedford are most evident.