by Brett Tolley
Control over the iconic New England groundfish is concentrating into fewer hands because of catch share policy, and the future of our ocean and seafood system is at stake.
According to last year’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) report, one entity controlled 25% of the entire groundfish revenue.
With no safeguards in place that number continues to grow.
And after years of rebuilding, the Gulf of Maine cod population has crashed again under catch share policy.
Yet policy makers claim consolidation is not a problem.
A growing movement of fishermen and allies disagree. They are rising up to challenge these policies and offering sound alternatives in return.
So why are policy makers resisting these new voices?
At April’s New England Fisheries Management Council (NEMFC) meeting, fishermen and the public came to provide input on the fleet diversity amendment only to be shut down by the chair of the council, Terry Stockwell.
Microphones were turned off in mid-testimony for only these new voices while the old guard, pushing for status quo, was given unfettered access to speak.
Some of those whose voices were muted had traveled as long as five hours to attend the meeting. From the moment they walked in the room it was clear they weren’t welcome.
When I asked the council chairman if he could allow time for this group of fishermen, students, and healthcare representatives to testify he said, “no”.
Stockwell claimed that there was too much on the agenda to make room for public input. I asked him if he would consider how far folks had traveled to be there, and again he said “no” and then proceeded to call me an “asshole.”
This is not the type of behavior you would expect from a public servant at a public meeting.
This behavior isn’t isolated.
Not too long ago New Bedford industry businessman Carlos Rafael referred to those fishermen and women fighting against consolidation as “…mosquitoes on the balls of an elephant.”
It clearly was not a compliment, but I took it as a sign of a growing power in the independent, mosquito-like fleet.
In fact, one fisherman said, “this guy has clearly never been in a swarm of mosquitoes.”
Like a solo mosquito, an independent fisherman doesn’t stand a chance when confronting the powers that be. But a swarm of them, all biting at the same time, can affect major change. And major change is exactly what we need.
Starting in 2010, New England’s groundfish catch share policy promised to improve fishermen’s livelihoods and save the fish…
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