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February 25, 2011

Maine-based power group hatched pro-catch-share drive

The pro-catch share petition circulated anonymously in the intensifying congressional debate over the Obama administration's plan to commodify wild fish stocks was written by Maggie Raymond, an industry executive with the region's largest "sector" or fishing cooperative, according to a document obtained Friday by the Times.

The Sustainable Harvest sector has unmatched links to the rule-making council and is also the biggest player in the new groundfish-stocks market.

In an e-mail to members of the sector, Raymond said she drafted the petition at the request of Mike Leary, a Sustainable Harvest member and an appointee to the New England Fishery Management Council, which wrote the rules for the transformation of the $60 million groundfishery into a commodities market, with fishermen working off an allotted catch but encouraged to buy, sell or trade their "catch shares" among themselves or to outside investment interests.

"Mike Leary asked me to put together the attached letter," Raymond wrote on Monday. "He is going to try to get a bunch of signatures. Can you get your people you know (owners/crews) to sign? How long would that take?"

Raymond and Leary did not return calls or respond to e-mail queries regarding to decision not to assert authoriship.

Outside the Sustainable Harvest sector, most fishermen who received the anonymous petition and were interviewed by the Times said they had no intention of signing it, based on the catch share system's record of steering control of America's fisheries into fewer and larger corporate hands, while driving out smaller, independent boats.

The petition asks "vessel owners, operators and crew" to urge Congress to continue to support the sector/catch share system.

It was drafted and circulated in the aftermath of the 259-159 vote in the U.S. House last Saturday for a budget amendment put forward by Congressman Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who represents the Outer Banks. The Jones Amendment calls for freezing spending on all future catch share programs, including those pegged for New England monkfish and South Atlantic snapper, grouper and golden crabs.

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