New England Fisheries Gloucester, New Bedford Mayors foolishly endorsing crazies in New England

Yesterday, ran an editorial by publisher John Sackton expressing his views that the mayors of Gloucester and New Bedford, along with other outspoken critics of sector management in New England, are spending their time foolishly promoting conspiracy theories about ties between NOAA and environmental organizations instead of spending it promoting the New England seafood industry, which is thriving, sustainable, and supports local businesses and communities. At Talking Fish, we agree with Mr. Sackton’s assessment, and since we can’ t put it better ourselves, we’re re-posting his editorial below. To see the article on, click here.

A sickness has descended on the political class in New England that has so tied themselves to a few fisheries malcontents that they have lost sight of how they might really support their industry.

We publish two stories today from the Gloucester times that in our view are examples of craziness run amok. The first is a conspiracy story by Richard Gaines that blames everything that has happened with fisheries in New England on a nefarious plot by EDF to take over NOAA.

The second is the gnashing of teeth that NOAA head Jane Lubchenco will not make another trip to New England for yet another congressional hearing on the same material that Locke, Lubchenco, Schwab, and other officials have talked to death: the abuses of fisheries law enforcement in New England.

There is an issue of law enforcement abuse in New England. It has led to a special investigators report, reassignment of personnel, and some rescinding of fines, and is the subject of continuing controversy. But some are using the anger over this issue to attack all fishery management in New England, when it is actually a success story.

Last year, these Mayors, Carolyn Kirk of Gloucester and Scott Lang of New Bedford and the handful of fisheries activists that are guiding them, adamantly proclaimed that the new catch share management system would be a disaster that would shut down the fishery in New England within months, leading to widespread job losses and unemployment.

They were wrong. The sector management plan succeeded in improving the economics of the fishery at a time when the alternative would have resulted in exactly the closures and devastation that had been feared.

Revenues for fish landings were up in New England in 2010, and landings were close to their levels of the prior year, while remaining under the required conservation limits for all species. Ports like Gloucester and New Bedford saw the biggest regional benefits, drawing more boats from other ports, and increasing the amount of fish handled through local services such as their auctions, ice houses etc.

Part of the success of the sector system with catch shares was the trading that allowed more fish to be caught, and that allowed those with the quotas to get revenues even when they could not fish themselves. Total groundfish landings in New England in 2010 were 43.6 million pounds, of which 97% was caught by vessels fishing under the catch share program.

Further, of the 42.3 million pounds landed by sectors, fully 38%, or 16 million pounds, was traded among sectors in 2010.

All sectors traded fish quotas, both in and out. This trading, only possible with a catch share system, provided the increase in efficiency that allowed the fleet to actually make more money in 2010.

One of the biggest lies about the sector system is that somehow quota leasing is the province of rapacious corporate interests, and does not represent income to fishing communities. In fact, all the leasing that took place in 2010 was from within one sector to another, meaning that only active harvesters were participating in the lease program. Secondly, since all sectors had both incoming and outgoing leases, all sectors both gained revenue from sale of leases, and spent money to acquire leases, as economists would expect to happen in an open market system.

One interesting thing is that there was a surge in lease activity in the last quarter, largely due to the fact that sectors realized they did not need to hold on to extra allocations of some species to protect themselves from reaching to their catch limits.

Back to the crazies. The Mayors of Gloucester and New Bedford actually have thriving fishing fleets, expanding stocks, and growing incomes. Yet they do face real threats.

These threats are not from EDF – which advocates market based solutions to conservation problems – but from those environmental groups that would tell the public not to eat fish because they are endangered. Food and Water Watch, endorsed by the Gloucester Times, is a prime example of such a group.

Just yesterday, in Tampa Bay, a writer claimed that populations of haddock and yellowtail flounder had declined so drastically that Floridians should stop eating them. This is just factually wrong. Yet this kind of lie is totally entrenched in the media. And no one from New England is challenging it.

The message our Mayors should be getting out is that the seafood industry in New England is thriving; stocks are rebuilding to historic levels, and seafood from New England should be on everyone’s menu.

Instead, they are mired in this conspiracy web, largely driven now by shore captains and others retired from the fishing industry, and they are doing us all a disservice.

The U.S. has one of the best and most transparent fishery management systems in the world, and this system of regional councils has largely been responsible for the great resurgence in US fish stocks. This year, NOAA scientists were able to announce that overfishing has ended in the U.S. Few other countries in the world can make that claim.

Yet that claim is crucial to our ability to keep fishing, and to have consumers keep buying seafood. Not only can we assure them that our fish stocks are sustainable; we can also assure them they are supporting local business and regional economy when they buy New England fish such as cod, haddock and flounder.

The malcontents should work more through the council process. But this involves a give and take where political posturing is sometimes exposed for what it is. In other regions where local authorities are keenly interested in fishery management decisions, cities often have their own representatives at council meetings, or on the council.

Certainly New Bedford has held a council seat for as long as I can remember, and recently Laura Foley Ramsden, owner of one of New Bedford’s premier fish plants, was just appointed to the council. I am sure she is a better spokesperson for the industry than Mayor Lang.

Although Gloucester doesn’t have a seat on the council itself, it does have a fisheries commissioner, part of whose job it would appear would be to attend council meetings and speak on Gloucester’s behalf.

We have a common task, which is to get people to eat more fish and help the New England seafood industry thrive. Unfortunately, the crazies who can’t let go of great conspiracy theories are sucking the oxygen out of the room. They turn white into black, turn good money into disaster, and turn a good story into a tale of woe. It is time for the politicians to recognize this and let the crazies pursue their fantasies on their own.

John Sackton is publisher of, the most widely read daily seafood industry news service in North America.


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