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Congressional Catch Share Hearing a Step Forward in Agency Accountability; Further Action is Needed to Protect Marine Resources, Fishermen and Consumers
Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
WASHINGTON - March 18 - "Wednesday's Congressional oversight hearing on catch share programs, which are a market-based approach to share access to the public's valuable fish resources, represented an important step forward in reviewing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's hurried application of this controversial management tool for U.S. fisheries. The beleaguered agency has been responsible for creating serious breaches of the public's trust on issues related to its enforcement of federal fisheries laws (as revealed in a House oversight committee hearing earlier this month). It must similarly be held accountable for its ‘cart before the horse' approach to catch shares. While the oversight hearings were a great first step towards addressing the highly contested issue of catch shares, we call on Congress to continue to turn up the heat on NOAA and its approach to managing U.S. fisheries.
"Food & Water Watch commends Rep. DeFazio (D-Ore.) for raising issues regarding the privatization of a public resource and the socio-economic impacts of catch shares. We also appreciate that he pointed out the fact that if proper safeguards are not considered in the planning phase, privatized quotas could, in the foreseeable future, become a source of profit for Wall Street.
During the hearing, Representatives Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) raised issues about potential job losses for small family fishermen through industry consolidation. Representatives Brown (D-S.C.) and Cassidy (R-La.) pointed out that recreational fishermen from their districts have been left out of the design process entirely. Finally, Rep. Capps (D-CA.) expressed the general sentiment, shared by many, that Congress will need several more oversight hearings to address these numerous unresolved issues.
"Catch shares can be designed in a way that supports jobs, coastal communities, consumer preferences, and real environmental and management gains. To date, NOAA has done the opposite. It has designed catch share programs to limit access to only a handful of companies and individuals. Consequently, thousands of smaller-scale and traditional fishermen have lost their jobs as the industry consolidates in the hands of a few big players. Remarkably, the agency doesn't even allow the public access to information about the catch share transactions within such programs, such as how money is being spent or who is being given access to our fish resources."
"Currently, NOAA is so off course that it is redirecting taxpayer dollars, from the advancement of the science required to better manage U.S. fish resources towards the pursuit of further privatization of public assets. The first thing Congress needs to do is disapprove this misguided budget. Thankfully, several members at yesterday's hearing took issue with the agency's proposed 2011 budget's diversion of $54 million away from science and research for stock assessments to catch share programs. Chairwoman Bordallo (D-Guam) captured the mood well by noting that many members were concerned that NOAA's "push for catch shares...is coming at the expense of these other management responsibilities and fundamental data needs."
"NOAA is using catch shares inappropriately. Rather than designing them to promote sustainable fisheries and local seafood, it is forging ahead nationwide with an agenda of more industrialized fishing, teamed up with industrial fish farms. Unbelievably, the oversight hearing today did not include a single fisherman or consumer. Congress needs to know that NOAA is a mess and the public demands better."
"Food & Water Watch opposes any push to privatize access to public fish resources. We support continued public management of fish resources and expect the federal government, when applicable, to rent catch shares directly to eligible entities and to use the rental revenue for better ocean management. This means fair fixed-term access to fish and a system that benefits the fishermen, the environment and the broader community."