SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

November 26, 2012

Our view: Federal quota caps needed to protect small-boat fishermen

The idea of clamping new government limits or regulations on private-sector businesses is always a dicey proposition at best.

And that’s been the case within the commercial fishing industry, which is choking under government regulations and such excessive enforcement that the Commerce Department’s inspector general’s office cited NOAA law enforcement in a variety of cases of wrongdoing — so much so that Commerce officials had to issue a formal apology to fishermen and hand over more than $600,000 in government reparations.

Now, however, NOAA Chief Jane Lubchenco and the New England Fishery Management Council have made such a mess of the New England groundfishery through Lubchenco’s and Environmental Defense’s beloved catch share management system that they have driven the industry to the point of economic “disaster” — conceded in a Commerce Department announcement in September.

To their credit, NOAA regional administrator John Bullard, environmental groups, Gloucester’s Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and a number of fishermen realize at least some steps that must be taken to fix it. That’s to put so-called accumulation caps on the amount of quota or “catch shares” any fishing business can control, or perhaps take other actions, such as requiring on-board ownership presence at all times or some other limits that can keep the bigger businesses from gobbling the shares of smaller, independent boats that can no longer compete.

That’s right: Given the current state of the New England groundfishery, federal officials have no choice but to put new limits, new regulations on an industry that must be rescued from itself.

That should not, of course, be the usual government course of action in dealing with most businesses. And Jackie Odell, director of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, makes a valid point in suggesting that the feds should essentially let the free market play out — just as it should in virtually every other field.

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