By Richard Gaines
U.S. Sen. John Kerry described himself today as conflicted, and declined to say how he will vote on the so-called Jones amendment to shut off funding for future catch share programs, the top fisheries policy of the Obama administration and its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but a policy that's drawn widespread opposition along all three U.S. coasts.
Kerry's colleague from Massachusetts, Republican Sen. Scott Brown, announced over the weekend that he would vote to end funding for any expansion of catch share programs.
The Senate is expected to take up the amendment by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, as early as Wednesday. Jones' co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Frank Pallone of New Jersey.
"We all share the frustrations that led to the Jones Amendment," Kerry said in the statement e-mailed to the Times. "But if there's no viable path for it to become law right now, what's the best practical route forward to get the job done?"
Kerry's press secretary, Whitney Smith, told the Times she did not believe the statement meant he had decided against voting for the Jones amendment, which was approved by the House two weeks ago, 259-159, with 50 Democrat votes including those of eight of the 10 Massachusetts lawmakers.
Kerry is considered a swing vote on the issue, due his party seniority and close relationships with President Obama and Jane Lubchenco, the NOAA administrator, who has pushed hard for catch shares since her days as a board vice chairwoman at the Environmental Defense Fund, then came to office in 2009, determined to push the policy and convert the fisheries into a series of commodities markets.
Catch share markets have a history of shifting equity and wealth to the largest businesses, while displacing the less-capitalized and smaller fishing boat businesses, and have done just that in the New England groundfishery.
Here, catch shares have sparked a groundswell of opposition and a federal lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford as well as fishing interests from Maine to North Carolina.
The EDF and its fishermen allies, meanwhile, have lobbied Congress repeatedly for the catch share system, while fishermen from New England the Gulf states have countered with their own office-to-office lobbying.
Kerry concluded that he would "keep working with our fishermen to fix the way catch shares are implemented in New England, and get the relief and results our guys deserve, end of story."
"I'll do that by any means that are necessary and viable," he added.
Kerry announced a week ago that he would seek a meeting with Lubchenco and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to press for relief from regulatory and law enforcement policies that fishermen contend have unnecessarily weakened the industry.
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Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.