PJ Media

New Regulations Crush New England Fisheries

What does it take to get Democrats on the side of small business? Apparently, a threat to small business in their home states.

The New England fishing industry, one of the staples of the Northeastern economy for centuries, is now seeing small boats going out of business at an alarming rate because of the new regulations pushed by the Obama administration and the green lobby. Called “catch-shares,” the regulations are supposed to create an individual quota system to help fisheries stay viable by giving them a proprietary interest in the fish stocks.

Yet according to a story by the Washington Examiner, that’s not what’s happening:

The culprit is the “catch-shares” — i.e. individual fishing quotas — program started in May 2010 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Under the system, transferable vouchers entitle fishermen to a certain percentage of the total allowable catch of a given species of fish.

Implemented properly, catch-shares are allocated as individual fishing quotas, which give fishermen a property right in the stocks they fish. This gives them an incentive to ensure that fish stocks stay healthy and grow, as has happened in Iceland and New Zealand, for example.

However, that is not the model NOAA has followed. American fishermen have no property rights. Moreover, the total allowable catch has been set far below the level needed to sustain fisheries.

According to the Examiner, fisherman Daniel Bubb caught 220,000 pounds of codfish in the year before the system was implemented. In the first year of the catch-share policy, he caught 11,000 pounds, of which he was only allowed to sell 9,000 pounds. What he had to do with the ton of fish he wasn’t allowed to sell we don’t know.

Worse, according to the Examiner, it’s putting boats out of business by the job lot:

This is not an isolated incident. In those American fisheries that have been subjected to catch-share regulations (excluding recently affected New England), Food & Water Watch magazine found that only 37 percent of boats survived the transition.

New England’s fishing industry is similarly plummeting, despite being affected by the regulations for less than a year. In five months, over half of the Northeast’s fishing fleet had been lost.

The trend is likely to continue, as catch-share permissions are being consolidated into just a few, wealthy, well-connected hands. Of the 247 ground-fishing vessels (which catch fish that swim close to the sea floor) in New England that are still active, 55 boats accounted for 61 percent of the revenue.

The person who has been put in charge of the fishing industry through her directorship of NOAA, Jane Lubchenco, has no background in fisheries at all. In fact, she was vice president of the non-governmental organization Environmental Defense Fund, and has said that science would guide the agency and that she expects it to play a role in developing a green economy.

The problem: her “science” is apparently off.

According to the New York Times, while the scientists claim the fish are in worse shape than thought, the men who actually catch the fish are seeing more, and there are conflicting studies as well:

Federal regulators are considering the unthinkable in New England: severely restricting — maybe even shutting down — cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine, from north of Cape Cod clear up to Canada. New data suggest that the status of the humble fish that has sustained the region for centuries is much worse than previously thought.

Fishermen insist that there are plenty of cod and that the real problem is fuzzy science. They say the data are grossly inconsistent, pointing to a 2008 federal report that concluded that Gulf of Maine cod, though historically overfished, were well on the way to recovery.

The man in charge of the catch-share program who was responsible for the devastation to the Northeastern fishing fleet, Dale Jones, was abruptly reassigned back in 2010 amid bipartisan pressure. While no official reason for his departure as the head of NOAA’s law enforcement has been given, it apparently had something to do with a document-shredding scandal.

According to an editorial in the Salem Times, everyone from Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (R) to Representative Barney Frank (D) are dumbfounded by fishing policy at NOAA. They quoted Brown as saying:

Just a few weeks ago, Administrator Lubchenco told us at a hearing in Boston that the fishing industry is on the rebound. That incredible statement demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the situation in Gloucester, New Bedford and across New England. I hoped that she would stick around to get the real facts from the fishermen and scientists assembled to testify after her. Instead, she left early.

The editorial continued:

[Brown’s] statement echoes the sentiments expressed by his Democratic colleagues, Sen. John Kerry and Congressmen John Tierney of Salem and Barney Frank, along with many others in this region.

According to a letter obtained by PJ Media, Reps John Tierney (D-MA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) are both trying to find out exactly why Jones was reassigned:

“In 2010, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reassigned Dale Jones, the former head of the Office for Law Enforcement. We are writing to request a briefing regarding the rationale for this decision. Although the Privacy Act may prevent the Department from releasing some of this information publicly, the Department is authorized to release such information to Congress.”

PJ Media attempted to contact staffers for Tierney and his committee without success.

Once again, political and ideological agendas are driving policy within this administration. Environmentalist activists appointed to positions for which they have no background are deliberately destroying an industry and a way of life in order to further their own agendas. They are using the administration’s favorite tool, regulation, to do it.