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March 16, 2012

Seafood group backs off catch share spin

After much criticism from its members and external industry sources, a draft letter by a subdivision of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition seeking a congressional subsidy has been scrubbed of its optimistic perspective and rewritten.

The disputed language in the earlier draft said: "New England fishermen are seeing positive results from the nascent sector management system," and concluded that "revenues have increased."

But criticism came from day boat owner-operators who have become increasingly frustrated by a perceived tilt by the coalition toward better capitalized interests. The division became public last month when David Pierce, the commonwealth's representative on the New England Fishery Management Council accused offshore boats of poaching cod from the inshore grounds of Stellwagen Bank.

The draft was circulated by Elizabeth "Libby" Etrie, program director of the Northeast Sector Service Network. The network is a nonprofit corporation established by the leadership of the seafood coalition.

It provides operational services to 12 sectors, or fishing cooperatives, that share rights of first refusal in the trading of catch shares and other synergies built into the network system developed by the coalition, which was organized in Gloucester in 2002 to unify the commercial fleet for political and business leverage.

The refined draft of the letter dropped the disputed language and instead described the catch share system as posing a more dire challenge to the groundfishery.

"New England groundfish fishermen continue to face very serious challenges that are both internal and external to the sector management system," the redraft read. "At this time, revenues remain far from sufficient to cover the high cost of monitoring for many individual vessel operations and for the fishery as a whole."

Both drafts asked Congress ensure that the cost of at sea monitoring, which is required now for roughly one-third of trips, is subsidized for the fishing season beginning May 1, 2013.

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