GUEST COLUMN

A catch shares program to help communities and fishermen

Posted May 02, 2011, at 8:34 p.m.

While members of Congress have spent the past several years trying to patch and repair our nation’s struggling economy, a small and diverse group of experts from across North America joined forces to deliver a plan and set of recommendations that we think will return long-term prosperity to our coastal communities and put our boats back in the water.

I was pleased to join the collection of commercial fishermen, academics, economists and policy experts on the National Panel on the Community Dimensions of Fisheries Catch Share Programs, the first national, bipartisan panel ever formed to tackle the issue of how regions like ours can benefit from a “catch share” model of fisheries management.

Catch shares are a means of managing fisheries by allocating a specific portion of the total allowable catch of a fish stock to individuals, cooperatives, communities or other entities. While the topic is often somewhat controversial, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is beginning to implement its Catch Share Policy, and it’s absolutely crucial that fishing towns in Maine — and those who represent them — demand that our communities and jobs be a top priority.

The Port Clyde Fishermen’s Co-op is just one example of how investing in a community can help sustain Maine’s commercial fisheries. The co-op secured a $340,000 grant from the Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program to help finance a new wharf that increases the capacity of the facility. It provides deep-water access, berthing and a landing point for the last remaining active groundfishing fleet east of Portland.

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There are nine groundfishing boats that land 1½ million pounds of shrimp and fish each year. The wharf also provides important access to fuel, bait and parking. This is the type of collaborative that could be allocated catch shares.

Rob Snyder, executive vice president of the Island Institute, agrees with the recommendations of the report, “Maine’s 70 remaining groundfish boats are working hard to retain access to the fish off of our coast. The recommendations in this report build on a history of local innovation and introduce new tools that can equitably address these access issues.”

We know that many of our fishermen have had to pull their boats due to regulations that have limited their days at sea. Our farmed salmon industry disappeared to Canada. Lobstermen are still fishing, but find their waterfront access is becoming more limited by developers. Landings in Maine have moved to the south, as the Gloucester, Mass., market becomes more fully developed. Maine needs more jobs focused in this critical area of its heritage.

Done right, catch shares can actually enhance economic development in our communities, tying more boats to the dock while also boosting the resilience of our region’s fisheries. It begins with NOAA supporting and encouraging Community Fishing Associations, which would provide affordable, local industry access to fisheries and opportunities for qualified new fishermen.

It’s also crucial that fish allocations be traded, tracked and reported in a transparent and accessible manner, and that NOAA grant initial allocations of fish quotas to communities. In all, the panel created 16 recommendations for NOAA that we believe will create jobs and long-term prosperity for our nation’s fishing towns, big and small. Full copies of the report as well as an executive summary can be found at the Panel’s website www.ecotrust.org/catchshares.

The National Panel has recommended that NOAA develop a dedicated loan program to assist communities and new entrants in the purchase of catch shares, and to engage financial intermediaries in support of capacity building, technical assistance and investment. Coastal Enterprises Inc. will continue to deepen its role in this area, advocating for the policies and funding that will strengthen fishing communities and jobs. I encourage all Mainers to call and write their local leaders and members of Congress, and tell them that it’s time for a catch shares program that puts our communities first.

Ron Phillips is president and CEO of Coastal Enterprises Inc., in Wiscasset.

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