This post replaces a January 28th post. It will be updated and moved to the top of the blog as new events surface.
The first year of catch shares, at a glance:
May 1st, 2010: The New England groundfish fishery adopts catch shares.
May 7th, 2010: New Bedford joins a federal lawsuit contesting the legality of the system.
August 29th, 2010: Four months into the fishing season, 60% of the fleet is at dock.
November 5th, 2010: Governor Deval Patrick requests emergency action by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to increase catch limits and provide financial aid to fishermen.
January 7th, 2011: Sec. Locke denies Gov. Patrick’s request.
January 24th, 2011: Ten environmental groups send a letter thanking Secretary Locke for his decision.
January 25-27th, 2011: The New England Fisheries Management Council votes to further review catch limits and the impacts of catch shares on fleet diversity.
January 27th, 2011: Sec. Locke denies a request by Gov. Patrick to widen the scope of a federal investigation into abusive treatment of New England fishermen by federal law enforcement.
January 27th, 2011: The New Bedford City Council calls for Sec. Locke’s resignation.
January 31st, 2011: Senator Scott Brown introduces a bill to require independently prepared, annual fisheries impact reviews.
January 31st, 2011: Gov. Patrick asks Pres. Obama to intervene on behalf of fishermen.
February 9th, 2011: Federal regulators propose raising catch limits for yellowtail flounder and 11 other species for the 2011 fishing season.
February 22nd, 2011: Sen. Kerry requests a private meeting with Sec. Locke and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco
February 28th, 2011: Proposed increases in catch limits for 12 groundfish stocks included in the New England Fisheries Management Council’s proposed rule, Framework 45.
March 8th, 2011: Federal fisheries chief Eric Schwaab defends catch shares before Congress and says fisheries’ prospects are looking up.
March 17th, 2011: Sec. Locke announces several actions requested by Mass. politicians, including financial aid for fishermen, extended filing period for law enforcement complaints, and an audit of penalty funds.
Massachusetts is home to two of the nations most lucrative fishing ports – New Bedford and Gloucester. So Massachusetts politicians will, of course, stand up for their fishermen. And New England has never been known for overly cordial fisherman-regulator relations. But the fight seems to have escalated to a new level in recent months. Here’s the run-down.
May 1st, 2010: The New England multi-species groundfish fishery (fifteen species including cod, haddock, and flounder) becomes one of the first in the nation to transition to a management scheme known as catch shares, or sectors. Under the new system, a total catch limit is set for a given species or group of species. Fishermen are allotted a portion of the catch and can choose to fish their share, or sell or lease it to another fisherman.
May 7th, 2010: New Bedford joins a federal lawsuit contesting the legality of the catch shares system.
August 29st, 2010: Four months into the catch shares experiment, the new management scheme is “working just the way both its detractors and its supporters believed it would.” 60% of the fleet is sitting at the dock; fishermen have decided it’s more cost effective to sell their catch shares and wait for prices to rise. In a three-part series on the topic, the New Bedford Standard Times says there could be severe financial repercussions for businesses that support the fishing industry.
November 5th, 2010: Governor Deval Patrick submits a reanalysis of federal regulators’ data on fisheries stocks and economic impacts to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke with a request for emergency action to increase groundfish catch limits and provide financial aid to fishermen who fear they are being put out of business by the catch shares management system.
January 7th, 2011: Secretary Locke denies Governor Patrick’s request to raise groundfish quotas and provide financial aid, saying that such a move would require new scientific data (not just a different analysis) and stronger evidence of economic hardship.
January 24th, 2011: Ten environmental groups, including Conservation Law Foundation, Oceana, Environment Massachusetts, National Resources Defense Council, and Pew Environment Group, send a letter to Secretary Locke thanking him for “the professional demeanor and objective consideration of the issues that NOAA and [National Marine Fisheries Service] staffs have displayed throughout this process.”
January 26th, 2011: In a somewhat unorthodox move, New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang took his own fishery advisory council to the New Hampshire hotel where the New England Fisheries Management Council was convening and scheduled a presentation down the hall and immediately following the Council’s own meeting; most of the Council members attended Lang’s presentation of fishermen’s complaints.
January 27th, 2011: The New England Fishery Management Council votes to have their Science and Statistical Committee review the independent analysis commissioned by Gov. Patrick, bringing the report into the regulatory process. In response to complaints that catch shares is driving small fishermen out of business and consolidating the fishing industry in the hands of a few big businesses, the Council also agrees to study the system’s impacts on the diversity of the fishing fleet, but only after the completion of the first full year under catch shares.
January 27th, 2011: Secretary Locke denies another request from New England politicians – this one relating to an ongoing federal investigation of corruption and abusive treatment of fishermen by NOAA’s law enforcement office. Governor Patrick and a handful of Massachusetts legislators had petitioned to allow more fishermen accused of breaking the law to (belatedly) get their cases included in the review, and to postpone all penalties until the review is completed. Massachusetts lawmakers react to Locke’s refusal with expected outrage. Congressman John Tierney says it is “further proof that … the [Commerce] Department is unwilling to make any reasonable effort to act in the best interest of our fishermen or our fishing economy.”
January 27th, 2011: The New Bedford City Council votes unanimously to seek the resignation of U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The City Council has no control over who holds the position of Commerce Secretary – that’s the president’s prerogative. But the councillor who made the motion insists that this is more than a symbolic gesture, saying “anything is possible.” The council has asked a handful of Massachusetts politicians (those already embroiled in a war of words with Locke) to pass their message on President Obama.
UPDATED February 2nd:
January 31, 2011: Senator Scott Brown (R) introduces a bill to require that economic impact statements on the affect of fishing regulations on communities be produced independently of NOAA and updated on an annual basis.
January 31, 2011: Governor Deval Patrick sends a letter to President Obama requesting that he “intervene to set your Department of Commerce and its agencies on a course of cooperation and consideration” but stops short of asking for Secretary Locke’s resignation.
UPDATED February 10th:
February 9th, 2011: Federal regulators propose raising catch limits for yellowtail flounder and eleven other groundfish stocks for the 2011 fishing season beginning May 1st. Senator John Kerry and Representative Barney Frank – an outspoken advocate for fishermen who co-authored legislation that made the increases possible – issued statements praising the move. Patricia Kurkul, the Northeast regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said that regulators would look into whether the increases could be enacted earlier than May 1st.
UPDATED March 17th:
February 22nd, 2011: Senator Kerry announces that he has requested a private meeting with Secretary Locke and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to air his “extreme frustration” with “some of the decisions that have been made with insensitivity and without adequate creativity.” He also plans to hold hearings to look into fisheries regulation and possible misuse of funds derived from fines and penalties assessed against fishermen.
February 28th, 2011: The New England Fisheries Management Council files a proposed rule – Framework 45 – that would increase 2011 catch limits for 12 groundfish stocks, decrease limits for 3 stocks and stay the same for the remaining 5. Notably, catch limits for yellowtail flounder – a choke species whose low limits can shut down the entire fishery if reached – would be 44% higher than planned. The draft measure also includes delaying the transfer of costs for catch monitoring from NOAA to fishermen.
March 8th, 2011: Federal fisheries chief Eric Schwaab appears before Congress to defend NOAA’s 2011 budget plan, including plans to transfer $17.4 million from research to the development of catch shares programs. He also that U.S. fisheries are on track to meet the goal of ending overfishing this year, and that prospects for the fishing industry should improve in years to come.
March 17th, 2011: In a reversal of previous decisions, Secretary Locke announces several actions requested by Massachusetts’ politicians, including launching an economic assistance outreach program to assess and address financial hardships related to federal fishing regulations, extending the period for filing complaints about abusive law enforcement and requesting stays of penalties pending review, and auditing funds derived from penalties. The announcement also included broad plans to reform fisheries law enforcement and make fishing regulations simpler and more transparent.