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October 12, 2012

Editorial: Inshore cod assault cries out for catch share reforms

The grim ineffectiveness of NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco’s catch share fishery management system as presently carried out in New England may never have been more apparent than this week, when even NOAA’s new regional administrator and the Environmental Defense Fund, which pushed this system from the start, came out in favor of making key reforms to it.

And the sheer folly of catch shares being some sort of conservation tool — a concept laughably sold by Lubchenco and EDF to President Obama three years ago — has never been more obvious than the last few days, when NOAA confirmed that eight vessels measuring 70 feet or longer swept into the inshore cod fishing grounds of Middle Bank normally used by the smaller boats to put their expanded catch share quotas to use and scoop up newly arriving cod even in the face of the latest, dire assessments.

Indeed, regulators and lawmakers should all recognize this assault on the inshore fishing grounds by the bigger, usually offshore boats for what it is — an unregulated catch share system at its absolute worst, with the bigger boats running roughshod over the inshore grounds in what, thanks to Lubchenco and her cohorts, is a perfectly legal use and abuse of a system bent on driving the smaller, independent boats and fishing families right out of business.

To his credit, NOAA regional administrator John Bullard, who heads regulation of fisheries from Maine to the Carolinas from his office in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park, is now joining EDF, the Pew Environment Group, the North Atlantic Marine Alliance that heads the Cape Ann Fresh Catch program, and Food & Water Watch in support of limiting the accumulation of catch shares by any individual corporations or cooperatives. And it’s encouraging that people such as state Marine Fisheries official David Pierce calling on the New England Fisheries Management Council to consider per-trip catch limits (see news story, Page 10, another step that could ease smaller boats’ quota crunch.

But all of this cries out for an even more basic council step — the scrapping of New England’s Amendment 16 and its catch share system entirely, pending a referendum of fishermen who are really promised that input under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in the first place. It’s time, in other words, for the feds to actually abide by their own primary fishing law.

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