PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- September 23, 2012 -- The new regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service says his goal is to rebuild trust with fishermen, but fishermen are able to rattle off a litany of complaints against the federal agency and its scientists that indicate the relationship may be beyond repair.
Even after Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank on Sept. 13 announced a fishery disaster declaration for the Northeast, some local fishermen were skeptical that it would result in any real assistance for them, claiming any relief funds would likely be routed to university scientists instead.
A group of 23 senators and congressmen have written to U.S. House and Senate leadership requesting $100 million in disaster relief funding. The letter notes that new fishing limits proposed for 2013 would force a significant number of fishermen out of the business, even though they have followed all federal regulations.
John Bullard has only been on the job as administrator of the Northeast region for six weeks, but he has heard the gripes of fishermen at listening sessions up and down the coast.
Portsmouth fisherman Erik Anderson, president of the N.H. Commercial Fishermen's Association, used to be a ground fishermen but now focuses his efforts on lobstering. During an interview with Seacoast Sunday in the cabin of his F/V Kris 'N' Kev docked at the Portsmouth Fish Pier, Anderson explained why he chose to get out of gillnetting in 2006.
In 2010, the New England Fishery Management Council passed a "controversial" new measure that implemented a "catch-share" management system. Instead of being able to fish a certain number of days, fishermen were now limited by the number of pounds of fish they could catch.
Anderson said fishermen who went out and diversified when regulators were cutting their days at sea were bound by their recent histories when assigned their share of the catch and received a "smaller slice of the pie." He also said catch-shares harmed gillnetters because they have little control over which species they snare in their nets. For example, a gillnetter might have a quota of 200,000 pounds of cod but only 1,000 pounds of hake. Once he's reached his hake quota, he may also be unable to pursue cod because gillnetting is not that precise.
"It's not that surgical, as much as everybody would like it to be," he said.
Furthermore, Anderson said he felt deceived by the implementation of the catch-share system. He said the Magnuson-Stevens Act, originally passed in 1976 and which governs marine fisheries management, required that any individual fishing quota be supported by the fishermen. However, he said, regulators circumvented the requirement by providing fishermen with an option of staying within a days-at-sea system that was so prohibitive it became "intolerable" for most fishermen, Anderson said.
"There was definitely a manipulation," he said.
Catch-shares were championed by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in December 2008. She is an accomplished marine ecologist and environmental scientist who previously served as vice chairwoman of the board with the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.
Read the full story at Seacoast Online