Written by Jen Finn
This has been a tumultuous year in New England. The switch-over to a catch-share based system of management for the groundfish fleet did not go as smoothly as hoped (as far as the fishermen are concerned) and has led to calls for the ouster of NOAA director Jane Lubchenco, pleas to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to bump the quotas to keep struggling groundfishermen on the water, and lawsuits aplenty from fishermen desperate to get this new program to work for them.
On the flipside, 2010 was the first year since we've been keeping track (which comes out to about a century) that zero species in the country were experiencing overfishing; bycatch is significantly reduced in the New England groundfishery; and I was thrilled to get the news that the Monterey Bay Aquarium is upgrading several New England groundfish stocks to their "best choice" or "good alternative" ranking from "species to avoid."
What makes me worry is the idea that we have to put so many small-business men and women out of work to do it. The West Coast groundfish fleet is looking at the same prospect of consolidation with their new catch share system.
What if our new management policies were closing down Main Street storefronts and throwing money at the feet of big-box stores? Would we hear as many cheers from the "green" sector? I suspect not.
So why is it that consolidation in fishing fleets is seen simply as a fait accompli, just one bump in the road toward sustainable fisheries? We are a nation of innovators, thinkers and marketers. There has to be some way to keep the independent guys on the water and not turn our fishing industry into yet another American business sector friendly only to corporations.
I'm not asking to change our market system or bring corporations to their knees. I believe in the free market. But that's not what we have when the supply is being managed so tightly by people who don't fully understand what they're doing or even have a broad perspective on the system they are using to manage all of these people and fish.
We can praise a move away from overfishing, as we should. And we most certainly ought to encourage people to eat the product of the fisheries that are recovering and being managed sustainably.
But at what point can we move beyond patting ourselves on the back to look at how these changes are affecting working waterfronts, historical fishing villages and fishing families? When can we stop looking at columns of numbers and take a glance at the people on the docks?
Now that it looks like we have found a way to save the fish, it's time to start looking for a way to preserve the American fisherman.
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