It’s been nine months since Gov. Deval Patrick, with ample scientific ammunition from NOAA and numbers and data supplied by the state’s marine fisheries institute, made a powerful case showing that the job-killing catch share fishery policies pushed by NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco and colleagues is creating an economic disaster for Massachusetts fishing communities.
Now, three other Northeast states have made similar claims. And after refusing to even acknowledge the request, NOAA and the Department of Commerce have now been supposedly working on a response, while U.S. Sen. John Kerry hinted earlier this week that some type of emergency package is in the works.
But the shameful, downright offensive buyout and bailout package now being circulated through New England’s congressional delegation had better not be it.
Indeed, by even discussing a $100 million boat buyout program —and, even worse, some $87.5 million in subsidies for those no doubt larger scale businesses that are willing to go forward – our federal lawmakers are considering a package that won’t provide any true “disaster” assistance at all.
Instead, it would encourage the last of the small, independent boats that form the core of Gloucester’s groundfishing fleet and others to throw in the towel once and for all, and accelerate Lubchenco’s corporately-fueled scheme to bring the industry what one analyst rightfully termed “consolidation on steroids.” And, just for good measure, it would provide $87 million in pure government subsidies to the bigger, more capitalized and corporate fishing businesses — those whose manipulation and abuse of Lubchenco’s and the Environmental Defense Fund’s catch-share management program has already helped to chew up and spit out far too many independent fishermen as it is.
The proposal in the legislative talking stages would work like this: The government would front the $100 million in money to buy out struggling fishing boat owners and captains, though the buyout program would ultimately be covered and reimbursed by the industry. That sounds like the industry’s “survivors” would be on the hook for buying out the smaller boat owners. Yet that might not be a problem, given they would then have access to their quota — and be in line for $87 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies as well.
That’s not only a slap in the face to fishermen, already being forced out of their private-sector jobs by their own government, but to taxpayers whose money would be handed over to large-scale businesses and groups who have already come up winners through buying up more quota and gaining a larger and larger share of the catch.
Ever since Lubchenco, a former board member at Environmental Defense, which has drawn millions in support of catch shares from The Walton Foundation – a nonprofit giant tied to Wal-Mart —took NOAA’s reins, there’s been a growing fear that her catch share policies have set a course for driving the small fishing boats the way of the family farm.
Indeed, the loss of small fishing businesses to the commodities trading spawned by catch shares already indicates that these policies — backed by an Obama administration that, almost laughably, tells us it’s fighting for jobs — are creating what amounts to a corporately-run agribusiness of the seas. Indeed, by NOAA’s own figures, the first year of catch shares drove 21 Gloucester-based groundfishing boats out of business from what was then a fleet of 96 – even while landings by fewer fishermen and companies was on the rise.
This “disaster” response, by buying out smaller competitors and granting subsidies to the big-boat survisors, would likely finish the job — and reward the victors with $87 million in taxpayer-funded spoils.
It wouldn’t help fishermen being driven out of business by a wrong-headed government policy. It would shamefully just affirm and even speed up Lubchenco’s job-killing agenda. And it could seemingly bring a buyout and virtual shutdown of the independent commercial fishing industry as we know it.
That’s not an aid package. It’s a condescending insult — to fishermen and taxpayers alike.