GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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February 27, 2011

Brown set to back freeze on NOAA catch share funds

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown says he will vote for the House-approved federal budget amendment to cut off funding for introducing new catch share programs, the Obama administration's top fisheries priority.

Confirmed in an e-mail to the Times, Brown's announcement comes as pressure builds on the Senate from advocates and opponents of the system, which allocates fishermen "shares" of an allocated catch limit for each fish stock, while allowing fishermen and businesses to buy, sell or trade those shares as if in a commodities market.

The net effect — including in New England, where the New England Fishery Management Council, in consort with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, launched the system last May — has been to shift control of the resources to larger businesses and corporations, while driving out smaller, independent boats that are hard-pressed to compete.

"Sen. Brown believes we should stop funding NOAA's current catch share policy, and (he) looks forward to working with his Senate colleagues to do just that," said Colin Reed, press secretary for the Massachusetts Republican.

Brown has also proposed an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act that would require annual independent economic impact studies of new fisheries regulatory policies.

Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry could not be reached for his position on the amendment which had bipartisan sponsors in the House and gained support from 208 Republicans and 51 Democrats in gaining House passage Feb. 19.

However, Kerry last week announced his intention to hold a Senate Commerce Department oversight hearing into the NOAA regulatory and law enforcement record in New England, where the catch shares regimen is nearing the end of its first year, bringing greater profits to the bigger and more highly capitalized boat businesses, while sidelining many lesser and smaller ones, statistics show.

The economic impact has catalyzed a federal lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and fishing interests up and down the coast, from Maine to the Carolinas.

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