Catching a fair share

When it comes to individual fishing quotas, by whatever name they are known, I have yet to drink the Kool-Aid.

But rather than re-argue the issue, let's give credit to the creators of the halibut-blackcod IFQ in the North Pacific, who had the foresight to limit the accumulation of quota and to require quota owners to participate in the fishery.

By doing so, they recognized the importance of the culture of the fishery and the contribution of fishing communities. Turn the clock ahead 15 years to New England, where come May, groundfishermen will see the implementation of catch shares --- the nom du jour for IFQs.

Here, too, architects struggled with the knowledge that consolidation could be devastating within fishing communities. Their answer was the creation of 17 fishing “sectors.”

The effectiveness of sectors at preserving America's oldest fishing communities remains to be seen.

But without question this effectiveness is threatened by the prospect of outside investment in catch shares. Such investment has the ability to undo any of the protections proponents believed were implicit in sectors.

“The last thing I want is Goldman Sachs buying up all the shares of a fishery in three years, and [having] derivatives of fishery shares being sold on Wall Street,” U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said Wednesday.

Goldman Sachs may be a convenient villain, but DeFazio's point is valid. If we know nothing else about U.S. fishermen, it is that they are in this for the long haul.

How will fish stocks fare when they're saddled with the imperative of delivering profits on a quarterly basis to investors who, for all we know, can't stand the smell of fish?

Thank you for your time.
Jerry Fraser
Editor & Publisher, National Fisherman


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