Sens. Brown, Ayotte introduce anti-catch share bill


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Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte are taking on NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco’s preferred system of fisheries management with a bill that would end catch share programs if they result in job losses of 15 percent or more during the first year of implementation.

It’s the latest shot against Lubchenco from the New England Congressional delegation, which has voiced strong and bipartisan opposition to the sector management program that began in 2010.

While Brown and Ayotte are Republicans, Lubchenco and the New England sector management system have also come under fire from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer of New York, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank — all Democrats.

Job losses and fleet consolidation in the first year of the program are the source of the ire in New England, and Democrats who should enjoy the ear of President Barack Obama have repeatedly expressed frustration at the unresponsive nature of the current administration.

Frank went so far as to file a friend of the court brief in the lawsuit — since dismissed — filed by major fishing ports New Bedford and Gloucester against the New England sector management system.

In May 2010, Frank blasted the Obama administration for ignoring the plight of New England fishermen:

“The fact that the Obama administration has so far refused our request to increase allocations for this fishing season makes the catch share program completely unworkable,” said Frank. “Catch shares is a controversial and radical change, and to institute this new system while also drastically reducing catch allocations guarantees that it would be devastating to the fishing industry. For this reason, I will support the cities’ lawsuit.”

Seafood.com editor John Sackton laid the snark on pretty thick this morning in his newsletter regarding the bill introduced by Brown and Ayotte:

“A couple of New England Senators have taken NJ Rep Jon Runyan's House bill to hobble catch share programs if there is more than 15% fleet consolidation and one-upped him by seeking to apply it retroactively to existing programs. I assume the good Senators will also pass bills requiring fish stocks to increase 15% each year, so that no fishermen incomes will ever be negatively impacted. Further, since they want no money from the resource spent on observers or management, I assume they will provide the fishery a total subsidy so that it can exist within the current legal framework. Obviously not impressed, unless they want to extend their idea to halibut and guarantee Alaskans subsidies and no layoffs as well.”

In a similar vein, Deckboss blogger Wesley Loy had a post recently entitled “Oh those tempestuous New Englanders” where he linked what he called an “entertaining item” on SavingSeafood.com.

The “entertaining item” was a statement from New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang calling on Obama to replace Lubchenco after a field hearing in Boston Oct. 3.

Whatever you think about catch share programs — and the passions are strong on both sides — it is hard for this reporter to understand how those who purport to cover the commercial fishing industry can be so cavalier about job losses, the plight of small operators who struggle to adapt because of the attendant increase in costs from leasing or buying quota, or going so far as to mock politicians responding to their constituents rather than blithely assuming federal regulators know best.

After all, job losses under catch shares are a feature, not a bug, according to Lubchecho herself.

In a teleconference announcing NOAA’s draft catch share policy in December 2010, Lubchenco said jobs lost under catch share programs are, “marginal jobs where people are squeaking by.”

Lubchenco is a former vice-chair of Environmental Defense Fund — the major force behind catch share advocacy — and Sackton has done consulting work for EDF in support of catch share programs that he did not disclose until it was brought to light by Richard Gaines of the Gloucester Times.

From this perspective, taking shots at working fishermen, the communities they support and the politicians who represent them says more about those dishing out the scorn than it does about their targets.

 

Andrew Jensen can be reached at andrew.jensen@alaskajournal.com.

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