By Richard Gaines
---- — A total of 26 members of Congress, including Rep. John Tierney, have urged the House Appropriations Committee to reject funding for new catch share fishery management programs in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico until the House Natural Resources Committee completes its rewrite of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
The committee has held a preliminary oversight hearing on the law establishing the overriding principles of fishing governance by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Exclusive Economic Zone, which was created by the original Magnuson Act in 1976 and extends beyond state waters three miles from shore for another 200 miles.
But because of its size, complexity and fiercely debated elements, the completion of the rewrite is not expected anytime soon, and NOAA, after instituting a catch share program in the Northeast groundfishery in 2010, has a number of new catch share programs in various phases of rollout in the Northeast, the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Northeast groundfish catch share program, whose coverage includes Gloucester and New England, was created without an industry referendum and has mixed with new rigid requirements for the rebuilding of overfished stocks to leave the fishery in a statutory disaster.
“I have a very difficult time with catch shares,” said Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch, who also signed the letter and is seeking the state’s U.S. Senate seat. “(Catch shares) favor multi-national economic fishing interests at the expense of the small family fisherman, and are largely driven by ideology,” he said added in a telephone interview Tuesday.
”Congress has an obligation to hear the concerns of our fishermen before new catch share programs are implemented,” the lawmakers’ letter said. “Job numbers indicate that commercial sector fishing jobs are reduced in fisheries that implement catch share programs. For Atlantic and Gulf Coast fishermen already struggling through difficult economic challenges, any additional job losses could be devastating to the industry.”
The Northeast groundfishery catch share program, which involves 20 interacting groundfish stocks, was designed to take get a “sizable fraction” of the fleet off the water, former NOAA chief Administrator Jane Lubchenco had said, and by that measure, it has been successful. But the effect on the fishing communities from New York to Maine has been severe and continues to wreak social and economic harm, without measurable improvement in the vitality of the community of fish.
The new congressional letter, dated Tuesday was co-written by Tierney, whose district includes Gloucester which is at the center of the Northeast groundfish catch share program,found to be a “disaster” last September by the acting commerce secretary Rebecca Blank, 11 months after Gov. Deval Patrick filed a request for the finding along with two socio-economic studies. The governors of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York followed with similar requests.
Congress failed to approve any disaster relief despite a desperate effort during the weeks before and after the national elections, an effort complicated by the superceding needs of the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
The co-author of the letter was Rep. Steve Southerland II, a Florida Republican. Tierney and the other signers of the letter from Massachusetts -- Reps. Stephen F. Lynch of Boston and William F. Keating of Hyannis -— are Democrats. Rep. Edward Markey of Malden, who is engaged in a heated primary campaign with Lynch for the Democratic nomination in the special election for the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry, did not sign the letter.
”Congressman Markey believes fisheries management is best done by the regional fisheries councils, not from Washington,” Markey’s office spokesman said in an email. “This would do nothing to change the management of New England groundfish since this would prevent funding for new catch share programs, not existing ones.”
The congressional letter was inspired by two amendments to continuing appropriation bills to halt funding for catch shares — one by Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, in 2011 and the other by Southerland and Michael Grimm, a New York Republican, in 2012. Both were approved by the House with bi-partisan support, but were vaporized in the Senate, which protected President Obama’s ocean harvesting policy, brought to Washington by the celebrated academic and believer in privatization Jane Lubchenco.
NOAA’s 2010 implementation of catch shares in the Northeast was assembled to avoid giving the industry the referendum on the change, a move last year upheld by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals which underscored NOAA’s broad discretion to interpret the Magnuson Act as it wished in its rules, regulations and administrative actions
Before the initial meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee in its rewriting odyssey, the committee chairman, Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, said the challenge in modifying Magnuson was not primarily flaws in the drafting but the ways NOAA acted in implementation.
“Further economic injury can be avoided, however,” the signers wrote, “by prohibiting the development and implementation of new catch share programs until we endure the development of better scientific research, stock assessments, recreational surveys was well as economic impact statements from NOAA.”
Other than Tierney, Keating, Lynch and Southerland, Walter Jones and Michael Grimm, signers included Bill Posey, Gus M. Bilirakis, Jeff Miller, Vern Buchanan, Ted Yoho, Ron DeSantis and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida; Tom Graves and Austin Scott of Georgia; Jon Runyan, Frank LoBiondo, Chris Smith and Frank Pallone of New Jersey; Steve Scalise and Chartles W. Boustany Jr. of Louisiana; Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Jeff Duncan and Trey Gowdy and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina; and Louis Gohmert of Texas.
“The fishermen in Gloucester and across the country deserve a comprehensive review of potential reforms before funding a program that could lead to additional job losses, which would be devastating to the industry,” Tierney said in an email to the Times.
“This bipartisan coalition of Gulf and Atlantic Coast lawmakers has come together with the simple demand that our fishermen be heard,” Southerland said in a prepared statement. “It would be incredibly reckless to shut our recreational and commercial fishermen out of a planning process that could lead to the loss of more coastal jobs and further limit public access to a once-open resource.”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3364, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.