GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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December 19, 2010

Gov. poised to back city's suit on fishing

Gov. Deval Patrick is set to file an "amicus" legal brief and join a major lawsuit by the cities of Gloucester, New Bedford and a wide array of fishing interests, challenging the legality of the new fishing regulatory system that — based on tight landings limits and a "catch-share" format, critics say — opens the door to outside investors gaining too much control at the expense of smaller independent boats.

The catch share program has at least temporarily disrupted seaport economies all along the East Coast, with reports that more than half the boats have been idled while the few multi-boat businesses are enjoying unprecedented revenues.

The trading of shares of the government's reduced allocation has debilitated many of the less capitalized, independent fishing boat businesses, inducing them to sell permits or lease out their quota to stronger competitors.

According to reports from Gloucester and New Bedford, more than half the boats have been idled while the few, larger multi-boat businesses are enjoying virtually unprecedented revenue gains.

The lawsuit and a political struggle between the industry and its political allies and the Obama administration and its lead official on fisheries, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, has sparked bitter hostility between the port industries and anti-fishing environmental organizations.

Lubchenco is a former Pew fellow and served as vice chairwoman of the board with the Environmental Defense Fund prior to being named to the NOAA post in 2009.

Under increasing pressure from the Pew Environment Group to stay out of the fight, Patrick's office issued a brief statement to the Times Friday reiterating a previous promise to join the suit.

The lawsuit, drafted by attorneys in Gloucester and New Bedford on behalf of those cities and fishing industry interests, has already attracted "amicus" - or "friend of the court" — support from Congressmen Barney Frank and John Tierney as well as the Washington-based consumer group, Food and Water Watch.

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