It was good to see that the Northeast Seafood Coalition — the Gloucester-based nonprofit that organized and now serves as an umbrella agency for 12 of the 17 cooperative "sectors" of New England commercial fishermen — pulled back and recrafted a letter circulated to solicit fishermen's signatures and send to Congress in a push for renewed monitoring dollars.
But both the coalition and its related Northeast Sector Service Network — led by Gloucester's Elizabeth "Libby" Etrie, and closely tied through their boards of directors — owe fishermen across the region some explanation as to how Etrie ever could have written the initial letter telling congressional lawmakers that indeed "New England fishermen are seeing positive results from the nascent sector management system" and citing that "revenues have increased."
For while a revised coalition version now suggests "revenues remain far from sufficient to cover the high cost of monitoring for many individual vessel operations and for the fishery as a whole," it's important to note that those changes were only made after Etrie's initial foray sparked justifiable outrage among a number of independent fishermen, some of whom essentially accused her of "selling out" and told her to take a hike.
The fact that Etrie's letter got out at all — and it did, having been emailed to fishermen in various sectors across New England — must have the corporately-backed nonprofit giants bent on pushing out more and more of the small fishing businesses licking their chops. That's because the nonsense spouted in Etrie's letter — again, sent with an aim of getting fishermen to sign on — parallels the misleading half-truths the enviros churned in the first few months that catch shares took hold.
Yes, revenues may be up — but that figure is meaningless unless balanced with fishermen's increased business expenses — including for management fees to the coalition and Northeast Sector Services.
And the only "New England fishermen ... seeing positive results from the nascent sector management system" are those who have been able to gobble up more and more quota and permits from those boats and longtime fishermen who have been forced to cut back — or cut out altogether, like nearly two dozen of the then-96 Gloucester boats in the first year of catch share fishing.
If indeed Etrie's letter leaked in side the walls of Congress, it could only undercut the significant reform efforts being pushed by lawmakers like Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank and U.S. Sen Scott Brown, who've shown they truly recognize the economic disaster that catch shares have brought to New England's fishery. And the timing of Etrie's signature solicitation could not have been worse, coming as those truly interested in the challenges faced by the fishing industry prepare to rally Wednesday in D.C.
To that end, Joe Orlando, one of Gloucester's most visible and most respected fishermen, may feel he and some of his colleagues need not head for the nation's capital. "We have an organization that's fighting for us every single day," he said, referring to the Northeast Seafood Coalition, which he serves as a member of its board.
But with friends like the Northeast Sector Service Network, New England's small, independent fishermen hardly need any more enemies.
Executive Director Jackie Odell and the Northeast Coalition deserve credit for recognizing and trying to limit the harm Etrie's letter wold have caused.
But — given the fact that their boards include many of the same people — the coalition and this "service network" must reiterate loud and clear where they stand, and hopefully steer clear of any renewed effort at pushing this thinly-disguised pro-catch share propaganda that would, indeed, sell out many of the small-boat fishermen this agency is supposed to be serving.
Small-boat fishermen know the hard truth — that catch shares aren't needed, do not work, and perhaps never will. And all too many of them are finding out the hard way.