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November 19, 2012

Fish council eyes limits on catch shares

NOAA’s regional fishery management council has decided to write a program of controls next year to protect the diversity of the groundfishing fleet between big and smaller boats and protect against monopolization of the catch share commodity trading system that has governed it since 2010.

The elevation of Amendment 18 — the ‘“fleet diversity and accumulation caps” action — to a top priority was confirmed at the end of last week’s three-day council meeting in Newport, R.I.

In support was a broad cross section of interests including a number of fishermen, NOAA’s regional administrator, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Pew Environment Group, Food & Water Watch and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance — which is based in Gloucester and helped found the Cape Ann Fresh Catch program. But one entity not supporting any potential changes is the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the largest industry group, which represents 12 of the 17 catch share sectors or fishing cooperatives, covering more than 300 members.

”We don’t feel that the purpose and intent of Amendment 18 has been clearly defined,” Jackie Odell, executive director of the coalition, said in a telephone interview Monday.

She also questioned the motives of the advocates.

”Where were all these people (during the creation of Amendment 16 which set up the catch share commodity trading and sector system in 2009?” Odell said. “No one has described to us what the problem is,”

The system took effect in May 2010 and — combined with constrictions on landings from NOAA science center assessments and regulatory decisions to hold down allocations through the governing Magnuson-Stevens Act — has brought the groundfishery to an economic “disaster” or “failure,” according to a finding by the acting commerce secretary in September. The disaster declaration was based on two socio-economic studies and a petition by Gov. Deval Patrick in November 2011.

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