By Richard Gaines
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Thursday announced grants totalling $2.25 million to 18 recipients on three coasts to advance the Obama administration's catch share fishery management policy.
Among the recipients are six New England organizations sharing $512,585, and one from Massachusetts, the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association, which received $185,000 to help launch a fishermen's loan fund.
The action by the congressionally chartered nonprofit foundation — which partners with corporate-based foundations, private corporations, global commodity conglomerates and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — is part of a broad and well-financed counter-offensive against most fishermen's push against catch shares, and a House-approved budget amendment that aims to cut off NOAA's funding for expanding the new system.
In New England and farther south, there are pockets of advocates for catch shares, which are already trending to consolidate fishing allocations and permits with the bigger and better-capitalized businesses, while driving smaller operations and independent fishermen to sell out and drop out of the industry.
But, as in Congress, anti-catch share opinion is widely considered to represent a majority in the industry.
NOAA, whose administrator, Jane Lubchenco, has been a crusader for catch shares since her days as an officer with the Environmental Defense Fund, seeks $36.6 million for the program in her fiscal 2012 budget, and has given no indication of rethinking the pace of the implementation.
That's much to the chagrin of North Carolina congressional Republican Walter Jones, the lead sponsor of the anti-catch share amendment which passed the House 251-151 in January.
"It is disappointing, but sadly not surprising to see the lengths to which (NOAA) is going to ignore the congressional position to their catch share agenda," Jones said in a statement to the Times.
EDF has obtained more than $30 million in grant dollars from pro-catch share interests — including the Walton Foundation, founded by Wal-Mart heirs — to spearhead the campaign for catch shares, but has remained officially mute about the clash.
The organization, known for its partnership with investors in market-based solutions to environmental issues — the "cap and trade" proposal as well as fishing's catch shares — did not respond to a series of requests by the Times for comment.
But a proxy for the organization, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder's Alliance — a group that has been underwritten by EDF and is known to speak for its interests — jointly published scathing critique of the Jones amendment.
The alliance, along with the Gulf Fishermen's Association and the South Atlantic Fishermen's Association, bought a release on a business public relations platform and described the Jones amendment as "the Anti-Fishermen's Act."
The groups said they would fight against the extension of the Jones amendment into 2012.
Especially in the southeast and Gulf coasts, EDF is seen as a hidden hand behind pro-catch share fishing groups.
The Monroe County (Fla.) Commercial Fishermen's Association, based in the Florida Keys) has put out a flyer reapplying the acronym EDF to mean "Exceptionally Deceptive on Fishing," and argued that "EDF would sell off one of the nation's greatest natural resources to the highest bidder at the expense of millions of fisheries dependent jobs..."
It was not the first time the Gulf group turned to publishing to advance the catch share agenda.
In March, the group bought a full page ad for catch shares in Roll Call, the Washington politics daily, and during a subcommittee hearing into fisheries policy, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington State held up and ad and waved it as a sign of where she stood.
EDF has transported members of the alliance to Washington to counter anti-catch share actions, including the February 2010 mass protest at the side of the Capitol.
Extending the ban
Jones' office said he will work to extend the ban on new catch shares in the Atlantic and Gulf fisheries through fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1.
NOAA said there are no pending new catch share programs planned for the rest of fiscal 2011, which runs federally through Sept. 30, but in the next fiscal cycle a number of fisheries could be converted to catch shares. These include the monkfish fishery in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
"Currently, the South Atlantic, New England and Gulf of Mexico (fishery management) councils are contemplating catch share type management programs," said NOAA spokesman Justin Kenney. Along with monkfish, he said, these include "South Atlantic golden crab, South Atlantic red snapper and Gulf reef fish headboat fisheries."
Soon after she was confirmed as NOAA administrator, Lubchenco announced that the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation had agreed to help underwrite the transformation of common resource fisheries to catch shares.
According to its Form 990 in lieu of taxes report, the foundation, in 2009, had about $70 million in donations, including congressional appropriations.
Anthony Chatwin, director of marine and coastal conservation at the foundation, said the 18 grants to organizations for research, development and financing of catch shares were not in conflict with the congressional order approved earlier this month barring new programs through the end of the fiscal year.
Chatwin said the grants were flagged to congressional offices in districts that included grant recipients, and had received no opposition. In addition, he noted, the congressional appropriations the foundation distributed with the grants came from the previous fiscal year, not the one covered by the Jones amendment.
For those reasons, he said the foundation saw no conflict with the anti-catch share amendment.
Among the grant recipients was EDF's client, the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance, which received $200,002 to help NOAA create the reef fish and headboat catch share program.
In New England, the Penobscot East Resource Center in Maine was awarded $185,000, the Tri-state fishing sector which participates in the groundfish catch share program received $68,500, the University of New Hampshire received $142,700, the Sustainable Harvest sector based in Maine received $30,000, and the Rhode Island Party and Charter Boat Association received $86,200.
The grants were for different projects related to catch shares, which are ending a first year in New England that generated a federal lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and industry co-plaintiffs. The lawsuit against Amendent 16 — the radical new regimen that introduced catch shares and fishing cooperatives or sectors along with hyper conservative catch limits — alleges that the changes have destatablized New England's ports and have spawned an economic disaster for fishing communiites.
Catch share manifesto
The manifesto for catch shares was written by Lubchenco and a team for EDF, World Wildlife Fund and Marine Conservation Biology Institute in 2008, who argued that all other fishery management regimens had failed, and without catch shares the seas soon would be left to jellyfish.
At the time of publication, EDF — which described the paper as produced by an "independent" panel — had obtained $11.7 million in grant funding to convince President Obama to embrace catch shares, records show.
Immediately after his nomination of Lubchenco to head NOAA, EDF received another $13.5 million for catch share propagation, all of it funded through the Wal-Mart-related Walton Foundation.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.