By Richard Gaines
A leading New England commercial fisherman and critic of Obama administration fisheries policy Wednesday disputed Environmental Defense Fund's claim that "Congress supports catch shares."
"That's very brazen of EDF," said Tina Jackson, who fishes with her partner William "Buck" Briggs out of Point Judith, R.I., and serves as president of the American Alliance of Fishermen and their Communities.
Jackson said she doubted that "Congress supports catch shares" simply based on the parliamentary action of a House-Senate conference committee last week; it barred amendments to a Commerce, Science and Justice budget, thus ending efforts of catch share opponents to affix to the bill the so-called Jones Amendment that would have barred expansion of the catch share management system that's being blamed in New England for a growing number of fishing industry and fleet consolidation, including in Gloucester.
Jackson promised to organize a petition campaign demonstrating that a hard majority of groundfishermen in New England oppose the catch share regimen that went into effect in May 2010.
Amanda Leland, EDF's vice president for oceans, blogged in praise of the conference committee action and seemed to credit as an influence on the committee a letter from "more than 100 fishermen" urging regulatory stability."
The letter did not mention catch shares. Its genesis, point of origin and precise purpose have been argued about since it was emailed to U.S. Sen. John Kerry on Nov. 14 by the policy director of the pro-catch share fishing and lobbying Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association.
The association is part of an informal coalition of environmental groups including EDF advocating for catch shares.
Of the letter signers, 46 gave Cape Cod addresses; Gloucester was next with 20.
About 560 fishermen have groundfishing permits. Jackson said Wednesday that, if she had two weeks, she would have been able to get two or three times as many signers to a letter opposing catch shares and asking the New England Fishery Management Council to fix the original catch share allocation rules being blamed for steering more fishing quota into the hands of fewer and larger boats and companies, while weakening or driving out many more. According to figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Gloucester's fleet alone lost 21 of its 96 boats and their related crew jobs under New England's first year of catch shares, which began in May 2010.
Jackson said she would submit her petition to Congress on behalf of the bill filed by Republican Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. That measure requires the unwinding of any catch share program if as much as 15 percent of participating fishermen leave the fishery in the first year.
Gov. Deval Patrick, backed by the congressional delegation, last week urged the Obama administration to make a disaster declaration and free up $21 million in aid based on new scientific studies showing that "catch shares have had a devastating impact on the commonwealth's groundfishery."
Yet, under the headline, "Congress supports catch shares," Leland, EDF's vice president for oceans, wrote that "the (spending) bill does not include a misguided measure that would have robbed local fishermen in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico of one of the most effective fishery management options available: catch shares."
Leland seemed to credit as an influence on the committee decision the letter from "more than 100 New England fishermen" that was sent to Congress "asking lawmakers to reject the 'series of increasingly dangerous proposals that truly put the future of our businesses and fisheries at risk.'"
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.