The following editorial appeared on Seafood.com News on Monday, June 29, 2009 -
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton (Editorial Comment June 29, 2009 - Once again, the Gloucester Times has demonstrated a woeful lack of knowledge regarding the recent decision of the N.E. management council to implement a catch sharing plan.
In the latest article (link ) , the paper acts like the only people who support catch shares are environmentalists and pointy eared bureaucrats - to bring back a phrase from the 1980’s.
It reminds me that it is time to think about the things that Gloucester really has lost.
Back when the 200 mile limit was put in place, the entire Northeast peak of George’s Bank was open to Gloucester fishermen. For offshore draggers, it was their primary fishing ground. The problem was that the peak was also claimed by Canada, since it was within Canada’s 200 mile limit as well.
In 1979, Lloyd Cutler, working as White House counsel , negotiated an agreement with Canada that would have given American fishermen harvest rights to about 70% of the allowable catches on the Northeast Peak, while Canadians would have gotten 30%.
The guys in Gloucester were thrilled. This was a solid agreement, and prevented the issue from going to the World Court.
At that time, it was the port of New Bedford that could not see beyond its nose. In the years running up to the agreement, New Bedford scallopers had harvested around 90% of the scallops on the Northeast Peak, and they vociferously objected to the 70% figure.
Then, as now, New England fishermen were wired politically, with access to Senators and Congressmen who followed their lead. The uproar from New Bedford led the Senate to kill the treaty. Basically, the Senate said that if the industry could not accept this deal, the agreement was dead.
New Bedford rejoiced. They had retained their 90% scallop share, they thought. Gloucester was furious - they had lost the opportunity for a permanent solution to sharing George’s Bank.
And the maritime boundary dispute went to the World court.
In 1984, the court made a decision. It awarded 100% of the Northeast Peak to Canada. New Bedford scallopers lost about 50% to 60% of their historic scallop grounds. Gloucester draggers were now prohibited from fishing on the most productive area on George’s.
I am bringing up this ancient history because today, something similar, although without the power of a Senate ratification, is taking place over catch shares.
Convinced that catch shares will end traditional fishing in New England, the writers in Gloucester think wharf talk in Gloucester is the be-all and end-all of fisheries knowledge.
The fact is that many fisheries have prospered tremendously with catch shares. Others have suffered problems. The key to a successful program lies in a lot of details, including how allocations are made, how rights of others who have invested in the fishery - such as the Gloucester auction, for example - are protected, and how local fishing communities can retain their fleets and not have them scooped up by outside investors.
But Gloucester’s writers are not focusing on these issues. Instead, there is a one note symphony: Jane Lubchenco, head of NOAA, and environmentalists have done this to us, and we are being victimized.
A few weeks ago, Gaines even quoted a couple of brothers from upstate New York, - never in the fishing industry before - who came to Gloucester and now are fishing their vessel because they love it, and are mad about the upcoming regulations.
I like to cut down trees. Give me someone else’s forest, a chain saw, and no need to look at the property again for 50 years, and I will do just fine, for the one year I can sell the timber. But the idea that somehow fishing is exempt from any limits is simply wrong. And yet, the attitude reflected again and again is that the enemy is the regulation - not recognizing that the world has changed.
After the 200 mile limit got rid of the Russian fleet off New England, capital investment, encouraged by the government, poured into the industry and the capacity of the fleet exploded. Fish finding sonar, GPS, Autopilots, rock hopper gear - suddenly anyone with a map and a memory could catch more fish than the old time high liners.
With no plan to make things better, the economic fallout of the collapse has hit many individual families, who are no longer fishing. Others, without access to investment partners or money to buy or lease licenses, have not been able to grow their business. But some others have managed to be quite successful in the New England fishery for decades, running multiple boats. In our system, we allow good businesses to thrive, and poor ones to fail. Why should fishing be different.
Far from being a death knell, catch shares are a system that puts a firm foundation under fishing businesses. The good ones will take advantage and thrive. The poor ones will actually have an asset they can use to sell out - not a trivial matter.
The writers of the Gloucester Times remind me of the scallopers in New Bedford in the early 1980’s. Convinced that the end of their livelihood was at stake if they gave up 20% more scallop catch, they ended up losing far more.
Unless Gloucester’s fishermen and their writers can see across the Anasquam bridge to the wider world, they risk losing a lot as well. In a time of revolutionary change in fisheries management around the world, to have leaders who stand up and say no change is simply not a viable option. And it is not Pew or the Environmentalists who have brought this about. It is the popularity and attention now paid to seafood, and the fact that the public, the buyers, and the industry who are there for the long term - all want to see the fishing continue at the highest possible level, forever. And they will find a way to make it happen.