GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 28, 2011

Kerry still weighing catch-share stand

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

Pondering how he might vote on the so-called Jones amendment — should the House-approved cutoff of funds for future NOAA catch share programs come to a Senate vote — Sen. John Kerry announced Monday he would be holding a "due diligence" meeting Thursday with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.

Lubchenco is the lead advocate for the catch share management program, which she began promoting while an academic scientist and officer of the Environmental Defense Fund before President Obama nominated her to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Kerry also said Monday he hoped to gain insight into catch shares via a field hearing he plans to schedule in Massachusetts for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

"It is accurate to say that Sen. Kerry is doing his due diligence on catch shares" by meeting with Locke and Lubchenco as well as holding the field hearing," said Kerry's press secretary, Whitney Smith.

But state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante said she would "encourage" Kerry, a fellow Democrat, to vote for the Jones amendment which was approved by 259-159 in the House two weeks ago.

"The reason is because nothing has happened so far to capture NOAA's attention so they understand the noose on our fishing community," Ferrante told the Times Monday. "Perhaps a vote to block future catch share programs will capture their attention and force them to consider common sense solutions."

"Even though the Jones amendment says nothing about groundfish," Ferrante added, "the initiative and spirit of the amendment speaks volumes."

Ferrante's recommendation is consistent with the announced commitment of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who is advised on fisheries issues by her colleague and mentor, state Sen. Bruce Tarr.

Over the weekend, Brown announced his decision to support the amendment that was sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, who like Brown and Tarr is a Republican, with a district that includes North Carolina's Outer Banks.

Co-sponsors were Democrats Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

The all-Democrat Massachusetts congressional delegation split 8-2 for the Jones amendment which pulled 50 Democratic votes to go with 209 Republican votes.

Ferrante's advice to Kerry was issued in a telephone interview with the Times as uncertainty about the fate of the massive continuing federal budget resolution remained uncertain.

Meanwhile, lobbying pressure built on the Senate from countless perspectives on dozens of House-passed amendments, most of them — like the anti-catch share spending amendment — initiated by the new Republican majority in the House.

"Sen. Kerry completely understands the frustrations that led to the Jones Amendment and has always agreed that catch shares must be adapted as we work towards long term solutions for our fishermen and other local fishing businesses," his press secretary, Smith, said in a statement to the Times.

"That's why Sen. Kerry requested an in-person discussion and is meeting with Secretary Locke and Administrator Lubchenco on Thursday to discuss the best solutions moving forward in addition to the upcoming field hearing he's holding in Massachusetts to give voice to fishing community leaders. The feedback he receives from those key meetings will inform his decision should the Jones amendment come up in the Senate."

"We all share the frustrations that led to the Jones amendment," Kerry said in an earlier statement to the Times. "But if there's no viable path for it to become law right now, what's the best practical route forward to get the job done?"

Smith told the Times she did not believe the statement meant he had decided against voting for the Jones amendment.

Kerry is considered a swing vote on the issue, due to his party seniority and close relationships with President Obama and Lubchenco, the NOAA administrator, who has pushed hard for catch shares since her days as a board vice chairwoman at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Lubchenco's final paper, cowritten for EDF with a cadre of like-minded scientists and former politicians, predicted without catch shares the seas would soon cleared of food fish allowing jellyfish to rule. Many independent and government scientists have scoffed at the example of apocalyptic antifishing science.

Catch share markets have a history of shifting equity and wealth to the largest businesses, while displacing the less-capitalized and smaller fishing boat businesses, and have done just that in the New England groundfishery.

Here, catch shares have sparked a groundswell of opposition and a federal lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford as well as fishing interests from Maine to North Carolina.

Kerry's statement Monday indicated he would "keep working with our fishermen to fix the way catch shares are implemented in New England, and get the relief and results our guys deserve, end of story."

"I'll do that by any means that are necessary and viable," he added.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.