, Gloucester, MA

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January 9, 2011

Top feds stand by catch shares

After more than two months of study, the Obama administration's commerce and fisheries leadership did more than just reject the finding that its catch share system while making a few people wealthy had produced a general "commercial fishing failure" in the New England groundfishery.

In sweeping aside that conclusion by academic scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and rejecting the accompanying request for economic and financial relief from Gov. Deval Patrick, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Eric Schwaab, administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, defended the catch share system as working as it was engineered to do, and said it is certainly not the cause of any harm.

Locke limited his comments in identical letters Friday to Gov. Deval Patrick and Congressman Barney Frank to a polite discrediting of what is, to date, the only independent credentialed analysis of how the new management system, rolled out for the New England groundfishery last May, was doing.

Locke based his legal rejection of the request on the finding that the Massachusetts report did not include "new scientific data."

But fishing industry backers noted that the sections of the Magnuson-Stevens Act that define disasters and what the government might do in response to them does not contain language that requires "new scientific data."

"There is nothing in the statutory language that requires new scientific data," writes Julie Peterson, an attorney on the legal team behind the federal court challenge to the same catch share system. The court suit has been filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and by a variety of fishing interests.

"The statute doesn't even define emergency. It's in his discretion," Peterson wrote in an e-mail to the New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, and Brian Rothschild, the dean of marine science at UMass-Dartmouth.

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