The news that the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has stood by a 2010 ruling by Judge Rya Zobel, and thus rejected the challenge by the cities of Gloucester, New Bedford and other fishing interests to NOAA’s and the New England Fishery Management Council’s Amendment 16 with its catch share fishery system, should hardly be a surprise.
Appeals Court rulings generally focus on whether the initial decision was systematically flawed — not on the arguments for or against the differing sides of the actual case. And while we can long argue over whether Zobel made the right decision, there seems little doubt that she arrived at in logical fashion.
Yet no one should believe that this ruling marks the end of the fight over catch shares, or other aspects of the gross mismanagment of New England’s and America’s fisheries by the administrator Jane Lubchenco and her National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as we know it. For in standing by Amendment 16 and catch shares, Chief Judge Sandra Lynch — who wrote the decision or the court – cited a December 2011 announcement by the regional fishery council that it is developing rules aimed at “reduc(ing) the likelihood that groundfish permit holders will acquire or control excessive shares or fishing privileges.”
Those steps — seemingly not in the works in July 2010 despite government testimony to the contrary, and barely on the radar screen in 2011 at all — are in play now. And whether they include caps on the amount of quota any one company can hold, or other mandates — such as requiring a boat or company owner to be on board — they should tackle catch shares’ biggest downside. That’s the job-killing consolidation of more and more catch shares and quota in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations, while driving the small boat fishermen and small businesses – the backbone of the fishery and the national economy — right out of the industry.
Rather than ending the debate over catch shares, this ruling may have instead simply created a new beginning for it. And it’s one that may well let Gloucester’s and other small, independent fishermen at least stay in the game and earn a living after all.
That, in the end, is what this is really all about.