Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Talking about how to protect the little guy…

As part of the “ Who Fishes Matters Tour” sponsored by the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) a forum on “Catch Shares and Community Safeguards” was held at the Portsmouth Public Library on March 4, 2013.  The forum was well attended, with a mixed audience ranging from UNH students, to local fishermen, academics and other community representatives.  The “ Who Fishes Matters” tour is an attempt to promote discussion across New England regarding better policies and protections for the fishing industry. 

The “ Catch Share and Community Safeguards” forum opened the discussion surrounding the proposed Amendment 18 to the groundfish management plan by the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) which will be up for consideration on Wednesday, March 6.  Amendment 18 would consider establishing accumulation caps and other issues associated with fleet diversity.  Accumulation caps would potentially provide protection to the smaller boat fleet diversity as well as limit any one entity from having disproportionate control of the total allowable catch.  The establishment of these safeguards and provisions in Amendment 18 are necessary since the implementation of the sector management and catch share system in New England in 2010.  In the two years since the sector management system was put in place, local fishermen have noted an increase in fleet consolidation has taken place.  Fleet consolidation means fewer and fewer smaller boats can keep fishing.  As of 2012 there has been approximately a 63% decrease in the New England groundfish fleet.

Catch share systems that have been implemented without any safeguards in other areas of the world have led to the collapse of the small boat fleets.  Ellen Goethel, the wife of local fisherman and NEFMC member, David Goethel, explained that because quota can be bought or leased within the catch share system, those with access to high amounts of capital- namely the larger boats - can quickly buy up all the quota, forcing others to have to lease to fish, which in many cases is unsustainable for smaller boats.  Interestingly, some of the safeguards that are currently being proposed as part of Amendment 18 such as 20% accumulation cap, had already been written into the catch share system in New England, but the NEFMC removed that provision.

Much of the discussion at Monday night’s forum centered around the 5 provisions being considered in Amendment 18 including:
1) Quota Caps
2) maintaining inshore and offshore fleets
3) quota set-asides
4) transparent leasing provisions
5) owner-operator provisions

Regarding the inshore-offshore fleets, some participants suggested that the only equitable way of dealing with larger boats fishing inshore would be to implement a system where boats would have to sign in to either fishing offshore or fishing inshore but that once declared, that boat could only fish in the declared area.  This would hopefully limit the large boats from fishing inshore and allow the less sea-worthy inshore fleet more access.  Most people agreed that pursuing Amendment 18 was worthwhile although some felt that in the end it might be a ‘too little, too late” situation, but that safeguards for protecting the smaller boats, the diversity of the fleet and the ability for the next generation to enter into fishing  was essential.

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