Opinion

Glad to see New England fishermen support the sector system, take back their fishery

The fishing port of Gloucester (Photo credit: NOAA)

Yesterday, New England’s groundfishermen—from Rhode Island to Maine and from day boat to trip boat—took back their fishery from the politicians. In a letter addressed to the New England Congressional delegation, more than one hundred boat owners stated clearly that what they need most now is stability, profitability, and flexibility. In one of those moments that have happened too rarely over the past many years, all I can say is  “amen.”

The letter was written in response to politicians’ calls for the dismantling of the sector system for the groundfish fishery, a management system that went into effect in May 2010 and has been lambasted ever since by a small vocal minority of fishermen. While critics of sector management frame the system as if it puts New England’s iconic groundfish fishery in danger of being controlled by only a few colossal corporate boats, the letter reminds the delegation that the entire groundfish fleet in New England is a small business fleet. There are some bigger small businesses and some smaller small businesses, but there is no danger of takeover by factory ships or foreign fleets. The small business owners who signed this letter say that the politicians are putting their well-being at risk by calling for the overturn of the sector system.

These boat owners were likely appreciative of the Massachusetts delegation’s intent in trying to intervene on the industry’s behalf. But in the letter, they demonstrate that they are of one mind that the new sector system is one they can work with, that they want to work with. The outcomes they have been fighting for–stability, profitability, and flexibility–are what groundfish sectors are all about. Almost no one who fished under the old days-at-sea management system wants to return to that failed program.

There are still many groundfish management problems facing the New England Council, and Congress could certainly help resolve them by securing funding to improve fisheries data collection, stock assessments, gear research and development, and to cover the cost of on-board monitors. Senator Kerry has introduced important legislation that may well help support these needed initiatives, and it would be nice to see thoughtful discussion and action on these real needs in Congress.

The message of the unequivocal and unprecedented fishing industry letter sent yesterday is that the problems of the few in the fishery should not be used to paint the management system as fundamentally flawed. With this letter, a diverse group of fishermen publicly defended the sector system and implicitly pushed back strongly against both those who have attempted to repeal it through lawsuits and those Congressional offices that have sought to politicize the fishery. If Washington ends up breaking the regionally-designed sector program by its interventions, then Washington will own the results.  But for these fishermen, New England is on the right course. Again, amen.


Comments

8 Responses to Glad to see New England fishermen support the sector system, take back their fishery

  • DCGadfly says:

    Shocking, shocking, I say that the winners in the catch share giveaway would send a letter endorsing their bonanza.

  • Buckshot says:

    This article should be sent to Jane Lubchenco she has been beat up badly and unfairly in the media !

  • boots44 says:

    Apparently this article is misguided if it thinks that these boats represent the overwhelming majority. In the very first year of catch shares 109 boats were lost- more than are represented in this letter- and I guarantee that they are not for catch shares since they are now unable to fish. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of boats that are left in it still oppose catch shares but now seem to be stuck in it regardless of what they do. It would be an interesting comparison to see how many boats are actually signed onto the lawsuit against catch shares in New England against how many boats are in this letter. If there were so many boats for catch shares, the powers that be would have had no problem taking a referendum. As it is, they skirted it, since they knew that no such program would pass a 2/3 majority vote of permit holders and affected crew members.

  • Please don’t put words in my mouth to make your point. The article didn’t “think” that 109 small business owners representing 153 active, real fishing boats was an “overwhelming majority.” I do think that any time you get 109 active fishing businesses–day and trip boats—across the region agreeing on anything is worth noting and noting positively.

    You say that 109 active boats were lost between the 2009 and 2010 fishing years because of the new program. You don’t mention that the only qualification for being counted as an “active” groundfish boat in this tally was landing one pound of groundfish in 2009 or 2010. A number of these marginal boats have now left groundfishing—as they have been leaving this fishery for a decade—but they certainly didn’t all leave fishing. Many of them are fishing now on other non-groundfish species, as they have been doing for years. Other boats were “lost” in 2010 because they were owned by the same small business owner, who may have been finally able to turn a profit by shifting his operations to a smaller number of vessels. (There were very real and troubling losses to boat crew in the region who don’t have many options. If the focus was on that group’s needs, maybe solutions that work for them at this time could be found.)

    You do purport to speak for “the overwhelming majority.” I would be interested in knowing exactly who they are. It may be more accurate to say you are speaking for a social philosophy, which you certainly have a right to do, but you should label it properly. As for the vote you want, there were two reasons why a referendum on the new program didn’t happen. First, a referendum wasn’t required by the law for this program; and second, a multiyear referendum process would have prevented managers from introducing regulatory flexibility into the system to respond to the required catch reductions in 2010. As far as I can tell, the social and economic costs for the alternative approach you champion would have been monstrous.

    In answer to your question, only one owner apparently signed onto both the legal challenge to the sector program and the “back-off letter” to the politicians. Frankly, I can’t figure out what that means.

  • Dick Grachek says:

    Peter,

    Let’s settle the entire matter, once and for all? Let’s have a real showdown.

    Since we live in a democracy which is about debate followed by a vote, why don’t we now take that vote: one permit, one vessel, one vote, and then see what “New England’s groundfishermen—from Rhode Island to Maine and from day boat to trip boat-” think of catch shares?

    • Dick, you may get the showdown you seem to wish for. The federal courts will decide by late spring 2012 whether the sector program legally required a referendum. After two full fishing years, that decision would produce a management crisis in the fishery that could produce a Congressional change in the New England referendum requirement as easily as it could produce the vote you want.If the referendum rule applies, 2/3rds of groundfish permit holders (active and inactive)as well as an indeterminate number of fishing crew (current and past?)would have to vote for the sector program. The results of such a “poison pill” vote might well be the foregone conclusion against sectors that you imply. On the other hand, the social and economic costs of such a vote and the delays and uncertainties that would be associated with it are difficult to imagine. And nothing will have changed with respect to the Council’s virtually unanimous point of view of where the future for this fishery lies. I just don’t find myself wishing for that outcome.

  • Phil S. says:

    Where is your concern for the “the social and economic costs” of the fishermen that have already been put out of business by the catch shares scheme?

    Maybe you should go and talk to some of the fishermen in Sector X before making statements like the following?

    “they left more than 1 million pounds of the fish they were allocated in the water, which doesn’t make any sense.”

    The 1 million pounds of fish that you point out they left in the water are completely worthless. This quota cannot be leased out because nobody would purchase it. But I guess you would already know that if you are really on top of this issue. For those who are familiar with the facts, your statement is the one which doesn’t make any sense.

    Sector X doesn’t have the Pew, Walton, & Moore groups funding them like the winners on Cape Cod do. They actually don’t have anybody helping them, and never have.

    Of course the Council is on board with the big greens and their catch shares scheme. Many on the council are on the big green payroll, what would you expect? Many of the big winners sit on the council.

    I have a couple of questions for you, if I may.

    Is it just a coincidence that almost 50 of the signers of your letter are from one secotr on Cape Cod? You know, the same group that has been funded by the big green special interest dollars for many years now? The same group that has hit the jackpot with the catch shares scheme.

    Is it just a coincidence that this same group has held the council chair for so many years?

    Why did the big green special interest money machine single this group out for so many cash infusions?

    There really is only one fair way to settle the issue. One permit equals one vote.

    “the social and economic costs” of that vote need to be compared with “the social and economic costs” of the current victims of catch shares.

    • Peter Shelley says:

      This blog got a number of comments like Phil. S’s that are based on incorrect or misleading facts. We don’t think that helps resolve anything and detracts from his basic message which is that he wants fishing rights to be distributed and controlled through a pure democratic process.

      I want to correct some of the “facts” and answer some of Phil S.’s questions.

      “The million pounds of fish that you point out they left in the water are completely worthless.”
      The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who studied Sector X for almost a year, reported that the unused quota in the 2010 fishing year was worth $269,100 if it were leased and $1,235,600 if it were caught, including over 108,800 pounds of Gulf Maine cod, hardly a worthless allocation.

      “Sector X doesn’t have the Pew [etc.] groups funding them. … They actually don’t have anybody helping them, and never have.”
      While it is may be true that Sector X has never tried to get funding support from any of the identified foundations, Sector X did benefit from foundation funds that were raised by the Northeast Seafood Coalition to set up the NSC sectors, including Sector X. Sector X fishermen also received $1million to buy fishing permits, I believe, from a Gloucester fishery fund that was set up with funds from a natural gas corporation. Finally, I suspect that more than one fisherman on the South Shore have benefited from time-to-time from more than $100 million in federal taxpayer dollars that was provided to help the region’s groundfishermen since 1994.

      “Is it just a coincidence that almost 50 …signers are from one sector on Cape Cod?”
      I don’t know anything about the circumstances of the letter. There were a lot of small boat fishermen from Cape Cod signed onto the letter but there were also many fishermen, including many group leaders, from everywhere except Connecticut.

      “Is it just a coincidence that this same group [of Cape Cod fishermen] has held the council chair for so many years?”
      John Pappalardo was elected chair by his peers and the state fisheries directors on the Council and was re-elected overwhelmingly because he did a great job in that position. Actually, as chair he had to abstain on many of the groundfish votes.

      “Why did the big green special interest money machine single [fishermen of Cape Cod] out … for cash infusions?”
      Because they applied for the funding like any other group, including Sector X, could do.

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