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October 10, 2012

NOAA regional chief, EDF back catch quota caps

NOAA’s regional administrator, joined by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Pew Environment Group, the North Atlantic Marine Alliance and Food & Water Watch, is supporting a belated effort by the federal government to limit the accumulation of catch shares and thus provide safeguards to smaller independent boats in the Northeast groundfishery, now consolidating in response to catch restrictions that promise only to tighten in the foreseeable future.

Many fishermen share the view of John Bullard, NOAA’s new regional administrator, and the non-government organizations about the need for NOAA’s regional council — composed of industry appointees and state marine fishery officials — to take up the problem of excess quota accumulation and consolidation of the fleet next year.

The New England Fishery Management Council will set its priority list at its November meeting, which will also struggle with setting draconian catch limits for the groundfishing fleet beginning May 2013. But far from unanimous is the consensus backing the council’s writing accumulation controls and limits into an addendum to Amendment 16, the landmark and legally disputed framework for the groundfishery that includes voluntary fishing cooperatives using and trading in catch shares.

The Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the largest industry group in the region, has disputed the need for the government’s intervention in the free enterprise authorized by Amendment 16, which marked the first time NOAA —approving a fishery management plan completed by the council in 2009 and launched in May 2010 — essentially adopted the catch share management format.

One expressed concern about a future addendum to Amendment 16 (known as Amendment 18, but for now, a document in name only) by the coalition is government intervention that would unduly limit or prevent the free trading in catch shares between inshore and off shore boats and between boats of different gear types — an unfettered exchange that seemed intended by the council that wrote Amendment 16, and is the lifeblood of the fleet, according to coalition testimony last winter during a scoping session in Gloucester by a team representing the council.

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