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March 29, 2012

Group pushes for fisheries failure call

Nearly two years into the nation's most ambitious experiment in catch share fisheries management, the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition has urged the governors of New England's coastal states and New York and New Jersey to issue a joint request for a federal "fisheries failure" declaration.

Such a finding would make federal financial aid available for assessing and mitigating economic and social dislocations.

The joint declaration would cover the Northeast groundfishery, which drew adventuresome European fishermen into the Northwest Atlantic before the onset of colonization and has been the lifeblood of Atlantic ports for more than 300 years.

The Obama administration has still not responded to a solo filing for a "disaster" declaration last November by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, now a co-chairman of the president's re-election campaign.

In 2010, the Obama administration sped up the implementation of a catch share format that brought 19 stocks into a system based on hard catch limits and 10-year stock rebuilding deadlines fused with a system of buying, selling or trading shares of the fishermen's "catch," or allotted quota among their own cooperatives, called sectors, or to outside investors.

The result was as NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said she desired — the elimination of "a sizeable fraction of the fleet" and accelerated consolidation of the industry into the hands of larger boats and businesses, with a number of small owner-operated businesses fading from the fleet. The first year of catch shares in New England brought a loss of some 21 of 96 Gloucester boats groundfishing then alone, according to NOAA figures.

The triggering event of the "disaster" now being cited by the Seafood Coalition, the region's dominant industry organization, was a 2011 scientific assessment of Gulf of Maine cod that found the stock was not rebuilding nearly as quickly as a highly optimistic benchmark assessment had shown in 2008.

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