Catch Shares Cause $100 Million Damage To NE Fisheries In 4 Years
September 12, 2012
Patrick, other governors, seek fishing aid
By Richard GainesStaff WriterThe Gloucester Daily Times
Nearly 10 months after Gov. Deval Patrick filed socio-economic studies to show the federal government the groundfishery was in calamitous decline — caused in part by one of its own agency’s policies — he and three other New England governors announced Wednesday they are asking Congress for $100 million in aid for the industry.
The written request from Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island was made explicitly “contingent” on the U.S. Commerce Department’s acknowledgement that the fishery over which it has presided for nearly four years has devolved into a state of economic disaster — something the Obama administration has refrained from doing.
The catch share program for the groundfishery— a system that encourages buying selling and trading of fishermen’s quota or catch shares as financial commodities — was the brainchild of NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. Her initial act after taking office was to pressure federal fisheries regulators to approve the re-engineering of the groundfishery without delay.
But NOAA’s own statistics show that the system has driven more and more quota into the hands of larger boats and corporations, with smaller, independent boats forced to the sidelines; in the first year of catch shares, Gloucester’s fleet alone lost 21 of its then-96 groundfishing boats, and the jobs they provided.
In his original filing last Nov. 15, Gov. Patrick explicitly faulted the “catch share” system for making a bad situation worse. The downward spiral was triggered by two decades of conservation and ever-smaller government-mandated catch limits to meet to congressional mandates, and has accelerated by a series of government assessments this year leading to even tighter cuts in catch limits, notably for Gulf of Maine cod.
Since Gov. Patrick’s initial filing, however, and despite the industry’s fading future, the Commerce Department has not responded even to acknowledge receipt of the multiple letters, including one sent recently by the New York delegation.
Pressure has been applied on the Commerce Department and Lubchenco from many directions; before Labor Day, Sen. John Kerry circulated a draft letter to the region’s congressional delegation with fishing ports and the ocean states’ senators which roughed out a $100 million congressional funding request that could be appended to a spending bill at the 11th hour. The most likely vehicle to carry the fisheries disaster appropriation is a farm aid bill which exists in very different forms in the Democratically controlled Senate and Republican House.
The letter released Wednesday by Patrick’s office which was also signed by Govs. Paul LePage of Maine, John Lynch of New Hampshire and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, differed in one important way from the substance of the draft letter out of Kerry’s office.
Kerry’s draft proposal had discussed funding of $10 million to cover defaults from a $100 million loan to capitalize a $100 million industry-funded buyback, along with the $100 million bailout in the form of investment to reduce the cost of operations for the fishery, now reorganized into a commodity market with the total allowable catch, which is certain to be much smaller next year, allocated as catch shares to members of fishing cooperatives known as sectors.
The latest version of the Kerry letter, however, no longer includes a buyback, sources who have read the letter told the Times. Andm dated last Friday, the governors’ letter makes no mention of a buyback, either. But it discusses using the $100 million to offset new obligations indigenous to the catch share system introduced in May 2010, “temporary financial relief.”
The industry is facing cutbacks in catch limits from for 43 to 75 percent next year, based on widely disputed updates of stock assessments.
The governors emphasized the need for investing in NOAA science.
“A portion of the requested funds will be used for cooperative research focused on improving assessments and the system of data collection for the fishery,” they wrote. “The severity of the potential consequences of inaccurate or uncertain science demand that all steps are taken to ensure that the data used to set catch limits is as robust as possible.
“With the livelihood of our fishing communities at stake,” the governors added, “continued improvement of fisheries science remains a top priority.”
Marni Goldberg, press secretary at the Commerce Department, said, “The department is actively working on these requests.”
Introducing a fisheries disaster funding bill this late in a session overshadowed by the presidential and congressional elections, however, makes for an iffy outcome, congressional and State House sources agreed Wednesday. The same sources said belated action from Commerce could come as soon as today.
BloombergBusinessWeek reported Wednesday that the Senate, which passed a five-year farm bill in June, is aiming to adjourn at the end of next week and return after the Nov. 6 election, according to deputy Democratic leader **** Durbin of Illinois.
In the House, Republican leaders are reluctant to vote on a five-year bill before the law expires Sept. 30. A one- year measure being considered by House Republicans is “unacceptable,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said yesterday, BloombergBusinessWeek added.
Subsidies to agriculture for the next 10 years, which had been passed by the Senate and approved by the House Agriculture Committee, have been estimated at $1 trillion.
The fate of any fisheries disaster funding amendment might not be decided until after the Nov. 6 elections, according to a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s biggest farmer group, who was quoted in the BloombergBusinessWeek report.