Below the beltway

By the same token, I suppose, we could blame catch shares for the demise of Northeast cod stocks. But we don’t. Why? Because that is a complete falsehood, like so many of the claims in this editorial. (Most commercial fishermen support this program? Perhaps, if you interview those fishermen who are making money under catch shares, that’s the feedback you’ll get. By the same logic, you could declare that no one on Wall Street is to blame for our current economic distress. That’s what they told me, anyway. I didn’t bother to interview anyone whose house is in foreclosure or who lost their retirement as the result of undisclosed details in their private investments because they’re just bitter.)

What we can credit catch shares for is making it easier to manage some fisheries because inevitably it causes consolidation, a shrinking of the fleet and risks the changeover of valuable working waterfront properties to condos, offices and seasonal homes. Catch shares do not affect the science with which we analyze fishery biomass. They do not affect the maximum sustainable yield or fishing quotas. It is merely a scheme that enables managers to assign the quotas to certain fishermen, groups of fishermen or other private entities. Catch shares do not change the number of fish fishermen are allowed to catch, so how could they possibly be credited with the rebound of a species, especially a species that was rebounding before catch shares were applied as a management tactic?

The concept behind catch share management flies in the face of American values and quality-of-life standards. We can tweak it to help preserve small-boat fishermen and working waterfronts, but so far, that provision is sorely lacking in the Northeast catch share program. Would you rather buy your food from a large-scale retailer or from your neighbor?

Until NOAA and its leader Jane Lubchenco recognize the weaknesses as well as the strengths of catch shares, then it will be a system destined to compromise the beauty and history of American coastal towns. The only time catch share management works is when it is a system designed with significant input from the fishermen.

The New York Times calls it “a worthy effort by the Obama administration to improve the health of America’s coastal waters.” Maybe so. But do we want to preserve only the waters, or the land, infrastructure and the people, too? It is all possible with a different tactic, but not under the push for catch shares as it exists today.

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