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February 20, 2011

House backs killing NOAA catch share funds

The U.S. House has voted to cut off funding for future catch share programs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration policy that opens the door to commodities trading of fishermen's catch allocations — and a policy already steering control of the fishing industry to larger corporations while driving out smaller, independent boats.

The 259-159 vote early Saturday morning was largely un-lobbied by either fishing industry backers or the Obama administration and its environmental allies, notably the Environmental Defense Fund that developed and has pushed hard for catch share policies.

The vote marked the first time a House of Congress has weighed in on the management regimen, and it looms as a setback for the Obama administration, whose most visible advocate of catch shares is Jane Lubchenco, the embattled NOAA administrator who formerly served as a top board member with Environmental Defense.

While with EDF, she helped organize a disputed scientific justification for catch shares, implying that without them, all food fish would soon be taken. Those claims have since been disputed by many marine scientists, up to and including Steve Murawski, the recently retired chief NOAA scientist who asserted last month that U.S. conservation policies have already succeeded in effectively ending overfishing.

The bipartisan budget amendment tied to NOAA's proposed catch share funding was sponsored by Congressman Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who represents the Outer Banks, and two Democrats — Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

"This is a shot in the arm for fishermen, and a shot across the bow of the National Marine Fisheries Service," Jones said in a prepared statement sent to the Times. "I am very grateful to Congressmen Frank and Pallone and to the broad coalition of commercial and recreational fishermen, boat builders and consumer groups who came together to make this happen."

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