By Richard Gaines
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown says he will vote for the House-approved federal budget amendment to cut off funding for introducing new catch share programs, the Obama administration's top fisheries priority.
Confirmed in an e-mail to the Times, Brown's announcement comes as pressure builds on the Senate from advocates and opponents of the system, which allocates fishermen "shares" of an allocated catch limit for each fish stock, while allowing fishermen and businesses to buy, sell or trade those shares as if in a commodities market.
The net effect — including in New England, where the New England Fishery Management Council, in consort with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, launched the system last May — has been to shift control of the resources to larger businesses and corporations, while driving out smaller, independent boats that are hard-pressed to compete.
"Sen. Brown believes we should stop funding NOAA's current catch share policy, and (he) looks forward to working with his Senate colleagues to do just that," said Colin Reed, press secretary for the Massachusetts Republican.
Brown has also proposed an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act that would require annual independent economic impact studies of new fisheries regulatory policies.
Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry could not be reached for his position on the amendment which had bipartisan sponsors in the House and gained support from 208 Republicans and 51 Democrats in gaining House passage Feb. 19.
However, Kerry last week announced his intention to hold a Senate Commerce Department oversight hearing into the NOAA regulatory and law enforcement record in New England, where the catch shares regimen is nearing the end of its first year, bringing greater profits to the bigger and more highly capitalized boat businesses, while sidelining many lesser and smaller ones, statistics show.
The economic impact has catalyzed a federal lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and fishing interests up and down the coast, from Maine to the Carolinas.
The anti-catch share amendment by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, won a surprising 100 vote majority, 259-159, in the House two weeks ago.
The measure could come to a Senate vote this week, perhaps by Wednesday, according to anti-catch share lobbyists from the New England and Gulf of Mexico commercial and recreational fishing communities.
They are meeting in Washington, D.C., beginning today to counter-lobby the pro-catch share efforts generated by the Environmental Defense Fund, the investment markets-oriented organization that effectively wrote the administration's catch share position.
The administration's chief proponent of catch shares, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, has said her goal is to eliminate "a sizeable fraction" of the boats. Lubchenco served as vice chairwoman of the EDF board prior to her being tapped by Obama to head NOAA.
Monica Medina, a NOAA official during the Clinton administration who also formerly worked as an attorney with the Pew Environment Group, was also a key player in the Obama administration's environmental transition team that picked Lubchenco for the top NOAA post. Lubchenco then picked Medina to be her top assistant and head the "catch shares task force."
Medina's husband, Ron Klain, has also served as chief of staff to vice presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden.
Catch share opponents and advocates in the Southeast and Gulf ports have also mobilized to influence the Senate vote.
EDF, which has received more than $4 million in grants to push for expanded catch share programs, has organized a lobbying campaign push with fishing groups that have profited from the commodification or so-called "catch-and-trade" system, which bears similarities to the cap-and-trade concept of carbon controls that EDF and the Pew Environment Group pushed unsuccessfully in Congress together with oil industry and coal mining interests.
"LAPPs (limited access privilege programs, another term for catch shares) have been the best thing to happen to Gulf fisheries in a long time," wrote EDFs Harrison Schmitt, in a draft letter sent to fishermen — and written for them to send to their U.S. senators. "LAPPs have helped the commercial fishing businesses make more money and fish safer over the past five years, and many of us who are professional recreational fishermen want to try the same thing.
"As a captain in the for-hire industry that provides access to millions of recreational fishermen in the Gulf every year, I believe LAPPs offer the best chance for the survival of my business," the Schmitt fishermen's form letter continues. "LAPPs give fishermen more control of their businesses, stabilize jobs and help coastal communities."
Environmental Defense did not return phone calls from the Times. But EDF has been working hand-in-glove with NOAA to sell the catch-share concept to fishermen, with limited success — and with a growing groundswell of opposition across the nation.
A flyer published in the Florida Keys last year, for example, accused EDF of "misrepresenting" facts and marketing "propaganda.
The flyer was entitled "EDFL: Exceptionally Deceptive on Fishing."
The friction emanates from the tight alliance of NOAA and EDF.
"While industry is ignored," the fishermen's flyer asserted," EDF is embraced in spite of having little or no fisheries management experience whatsoever."
Last Friday, an estimated 500 commercial and recreational fishermen rallied outside the NOAA Fisheries Southeast regional headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla.
One of the organizers, Dave Campo, told the Times the rally succeeded in showing NOAA the two sides were united in opposing policies "based on lack of science or flawed science that lead to overregulation and loss of jobs.
The insurgency was fueled, Campo said, by the catch share management of the gag grouper fishery.
The system was instituted a year ago when shares of a 1.2-million pound allocation were distributed to fishermen. But after the allocation was cut back by more than 90 percent to 100,000 pounds for this year, the participants in the gab grouper catch share market found themselves holding radically devalued shares, Campo told the Times.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.