Fish Policy Fails Public Commons

niaz Press Releases, Publications

For immediate release: April 22, 2015


Tim Rider, Commercial fisherman, 603-953-5515

Brett Tolley, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, 718-570-2377

Kyle Molton, Penobscot East Resource Center, 207-975-2728


Mystic, CT – Wearing orange “Who Fishes Matters” t-shirts, dozens of students, fishermen, healthcare representatives, and food system advocates showed up at the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) yesterday demanding that NEFMC stop the corporate takeover of the ocean and fisheries, and stop ignoring the general public, seafood consumers, institutional purchasers, and large number of fishermen who work in this region. NEFMC is responsible for recommending policies that protect the public’s fisheries.

Representatives from Health Care Without Harm and Real Food Challenge students joined fishermen and community based fishing organizations calling for adoptions of protections from problems identified with Catch Share policies to the New England Groundfish Fishery Management Plan. In addition to those present in the room, major New England hospitals including Boston Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Sodexo, facilities and food service managers for institutions, wrote letters in support of the protections offered by fishermen. The public who couldn’t be present is weighing in through their participation in a Thunderclap campaign .

In the five years since the Catch Share policy was implemented in New England, fishing rights have dramatically consolidated, community based fishermen have less access to fishing quota, and pressure on inshore fishing areas has increased. From the start, fishermen concerned about the ecological, social and economic impacts of consolidation participated in NEFMC’s due process proposing alternatives to fix the Catch Share system.

“The Council’s inaction is bad for the fishermen, the fish, and for New Englanders who love and value their local seafood,” said Tim Rider, commercial fishermen from Saco, Maine. “Over the past 15 years we have taken conservation measures to bring back the fish. Now, Catch Share policies are undoing all the good we did as fisheries access is concentrating into the hands of just a few players, communities are losing their infrastructure, and in the process, the stocks are decimated.”

Fishing communities and their allies have submitted alternatives and participated in the public process from the start in good faith. However, yesterday’s decision by the NEFMC sent a clear signal that the public process can be usurped by private interest.

“Despite years of testimony from New England fishermen who are feeling the squeeze of the consolidating fishery, the rising costs of leasing quota, and the years of rebuilding efforts gone to waste, at yesterday’s NEFMC meeting, members did nothing to solve the problems fishermen have been bringing to the table,” said Kyle Molton, Policy Director at the Penobscot East Resource Center.

Before putting Catch Shares into motion, the NEFMC promised it would fix any problems identified after the fact. It then prioritized Amendment 18 to the New England Groundfish Management Plan as a way to fix problems associated with the rapid transition to Catch Shares that began in 2010.

Since then, community based fishermen from around the region have testified and urged NEFMC to establish real protections to allow stocks to recover, create mechanisms for a more equitable quota distribution as there are in other Catch Share systems, demand more transparency and accountability in the quota/permit trading and purchasing system, make more data available to the public, and establish limits on quota control somewhere between 2-5%.

NEFMC chose not to take up these recommendations and instead voted to cap quota at 15% which will allow 7 entities to control the entire fishery. According to a recent National Marine Fisheries report in 2013 one entity controlled 25% of the overall groundfish revenue.

“The main objective of the Catch Share policy was to consolidate the fishing fleet and concentrate fisheries access into fewer hands claiming ownership and fewer more efficient players will equal stewardship,” said Tolley.

“Fact is, several Council members stand to benefit from a consolidated fleet, similar to how small groups of insiders have benefitted when other aspects of our economy has consolidated (banking, housing, agriculture, etc).”

The first US Catch Share program began in the early 90s with the Surf Clam Ocean Quahog fishery, and that fishery is now owned and controlled by a small handful of banks and multinational corporations.

“For many fishermen, this means a loss of our livelihood and culture. It means a break in a family tradition. And perhaps more importantly, it means future generations in these fishing families will have no access to using and stewarding the fish stocks and marine ecosystems that have sustained them for so long,” said fisherman Tim Rider.

“I have a three-year-old son and I would love to know that one day he could be a commercial fisherman if he wanted. But the way things are going there is no hope for a family fisherman to earn a living. We’re being told that to stay in the industry we have to either get big or get out.”

Similar to the implications of a consolidated food industry on land, consolidation in the New England fisheries will mean loss of community input, poorer working conditions, less variety of species being caught, ecological negligence, and lack of transparency and accountability.

“As a health care facility serving patients, employees, and the broader community, it is important for my institution to have access to wild-caught fish from New England waters because we recognize that this is the best way to protect our marine resources and support the resilience of our local fishing communities. Imports of similar species are not a substitute,” said Paul O’Connor, Culinary Program Coordinator at Boston Children’s Hospital in a letter to the NEFMC.

“Fleet consolidation and concentration of the rights to fish will undermine these efforts we’ve undertaken to support local fishing communities.” Boston Children’s Hospital was just one of many New England healthcare facilities who wrote to NEFMC emphasizing the need for protections against Catch Share problems.


Note to Editors: Photos of yesterday’s NEFMC can be found here . Video testimonies in support of changes to Catch Share policies can be found here .