GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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May 11, 2012

U.S. House approves bill to stall catch shares

A mini-budget containing language that stops the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from developing, approving or implementing new catch share fishery management programs along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico was approved Thursday by the full U.S. House of Representatives.

If it survives reconciliation with the Senate's version of the Appropriations Act for Commerce, Justice and Science, the anti-catch share rider would not affect the catch share regimen that — working in concert with statutory limits on catch limits since 2010 — has thrown the New England and Northeast groundfishery into tumult and contraction, shedding jobs in Gloucester and elsewhere as fishermen sell permits or lease their quota and stay at home.

But it could bar NOAA and its New England Fishery Management Council from launching a catch share program to restructure the Northeast monkfishery. A limited-access privilege program for monkfishing — as catch share systems are formally known — has been under study in the council for some time.

Monkfish are now managed separately from groundfish though they inhabit many of the same waters, ranging from Maine to North Carolina. Once considered a "junk" fish, monks now are highly valued, and landings in recent years produced upward of $50 million to fishermen at the docks.

The anti-catch share rider sponsored by Republicans Steve Southerland of Florida and Michael Grimm of New York was approved late Wednesday on a 220-191 roll call vote along party lines. In a letter to colleagues before the vote, Southerland and Grimm described catch shares as a concept to enrich the few at the expense of the many by "privatizing access to a once open fishery."

Democrats John Tierney, who represents Cape Ann, Barney Frank, whose district includes New Bedford, and William Keating, who represents small ports along Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod, continued their opposition to the signature fisheries policy of the Obama administration, by siding with the majority, as they did last year when a similar rider — sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican — was approved 221-121 before being watered down in the Senate.

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