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March 8, 2013

Editorial: State fishing chief’s stand shows catch shares killing fishery

In barring state-permitted fishermen from gaining a new access to fishing areas that have traditionally been closed, state Division of Marine Fisheries chief Paul Diodati could have simply noted that his denial was based on a lack of cod and other groundfish as cited in the latest NOAA assessment data that is on the verge of choking out an entire industry.

To his credit, however, Diodati was more specific than that.

Noting that he shares the concerns of the relatively few state-permitted, small-boat fishermen, he made it clear that the shortage of fish within those fishermen’s usual grounds is due in large part to the fact that more and more big boats — “unencumbered by trip limits ...particularly on Gulf of Maine Cod when they are aggregated for migration, feeding (and) spawning, has significantly contributed to declines in local abundance.”

And that amounts to an acknowledgement of one thing; the inshore fishery is being killed off by the federal government’s catastrophically flawed catch share management system, which, in allowing the selling and leasing of some fishermen’s “catch shares,” has allowed large boats and corporations the chance to scoop up unlimited available quota and, with no more limits on a day trip’s catch, simply bore in and scoop up enormous quantities of fish — while running roughshod over the smaller boats’ nets and other gear in the process.

Of all the problems with catch shares — its widespread killing of fishermen’s jobs, its driving of all quota into the hands of fewer and fewer well-capitalized big boats that can best handle the commodities trading, and its driving of more and more small, independent boats off the waters — perhaps its greatest sham is this. While former NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco and her past enviro gang at the Environmental Defense Fund touted catch shares as a savior for America’s fisheries, it has opened the door to further devastation of the stocks themselves. And the announcement by the state’s own marine fisheries chief confirms it.

That’s why, amid the justified calls for economic disaster assistance and an easing of the dire limit cuts in place for May 1, the most important relief for the fishing industry remains perhaps the most basic. That’s to restore trip landing limits, cap quota accumulations per vessel — and in a best-case scenario, end catch shares now, before it’s too late.

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