Written by Jen Finn
At the end of 2010, NOAA director Jane Lubchenco at long last addressed some of the criticism placed at her door regarding catch shares.
In her response to a letter from Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Lubchenco says of Northeast catch shares, "But since it is merely a tool, rather than a regulatory outcome, it is not the cause of the loss of employment in the fishing communities."
Whatever label the federal government wants to slap on catch shares, it will not make this "tool" any less effective at eliminating jobs in the Northeast groundfish fishery.
The restrictions implemented with catch shares, in fact, make it financially very difficult for small-boat fishermen to stay afloat. When governors, representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle are calling for a change in the system, how does it behoove the administration to ignore a bipartisan movement?
If catch shares are the future of fishing in this country, let's not dance around it by using definitions to deflect responsibility. Lubchenco trotted out catch shares to tout their advantages, and she hasn't held audience with those fishermen since.
There was a time when the U.S. government and technology intersected in a dangerous way to get more fishermen on the water, in better boats with better gear in deeper waters. But what they and many others didn't fully understand was that the resource was limited.
In the decades since, American fisheries have stabilized, management has improved, and many fishermen have left the industry. So who is left? Sure there are still big boats and corporations, but the legacy of American fishing is the small-boat fisherman whose family is full of fishermen, who would rather be on the water than anywhere else, who has fishing in his blood.
These are the stakeholders who go to council meetings, submit comments to NMFS and band together to sell their catch directly to the public when local infrastructure falls short. These are the fishermen who will do anything it takes to keep fishing, even if that means floundering under a failing catch share program until their cases move through the court system. The question is, can they outlast this administration?
And what does Lubchenco, their regulatory leader, have to say in response?
"Catch share programs have a strong track record and, if well designed, provide an effective means of staying within targeted catch limits while improving the economic performance, social stability, and safety-at-sea of Federally managed fisheries."
And therein is the rub. If any management program is well designed, it will be effective at maintaining or rebuilding the resource without putting half the fleet out of business. The problem with this catch shares program is that it was not well designed. It was rushed into implementation, and it is, therefore, not working as planned.
It doesn't take a fleet of fishermen, lawyers and politicians to see that. But if one person at the federal level keeps her blinders on, then everyone in the industry will continue to suffer from her lack of vision.
– Jessica Hathaway
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