Praised by Environmental Defense Fund and Conservation Law Foundation, the fishermen's letter defending stability and the status quo in the New England groundfishery drew a preponderance of its support from the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, whose policy director emailed it the U.S. Senate.
Though Cape Cod is a relatively minor faction of the industry, of the 107 fishermen who signed onto the letter, 46 work out of Cape Cod ports.
The Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's Association is a longtime ally and beneficiary of nonprofit groups and their corporate backers, including Wal-Mart, that have pushed for the catch share management system that's being blamed by many fishermen and lawmakers for driving jobs and small fishing businesses out of the industry.
No other port contributed more than 20 names to the letter, whose source remained unknown more than a week after the one-pager was sent out, timed to correspond to the beginning of three day meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council.
The council's decision last Wednesday to assign low priority to the festering question of making changes to Amendment 16 and its catch share management system, in effect in New England since May 2010, aligned with the pleas of the letter, which has inflamed feelings and set off rolling arguments on websites across the region.
The letter was viewed as a breakthrough in rationalism on the sites of nonprofit giants such as Environmental Defense Fund and the Conservation Law Foundation.
But respondents from among fishermen who see a master plan — written at EDF and later executed by Jane Lubchenco, the former EDF board member chosen by President Obama to head NOAA — to dispossess smaller, independent boats and clear the way for more corporatization of the oceans, have fought back on line.
Gloucester groundfisherman Russell Sherman, who signed the letter, said the draft he signed was a watered down redraft of an earlier version, described to him as a blunt endorsement of the catch share system being pushed by EDF.