by Paul Bowers
A local fisherman is taking a stand against an attempt by some members of Congress to ban the creation of new catch shares, organizations intended to maintain fish populations by setting catch quotas for individual fishermen.
Traditionally, regional fisheries have been regulated by catch limits that apply to the sum total of fish caught by all fishermen — a setup that has sometimes led to "derby fishing," where fishers race each other to catch the most fish at the beginning of the open season, often working long days to maximize their catch before the limit is reached.
A catch share program sets annual limits for fishermen based on their historical catch numbers, and individual shares can also be sold in an arrangement similar to cap-and-trade regulation of industrial pollution. As noted in the City Paper cover story on catch share programs from April 18, some fishermen have advocated a catch share program as a remedy to catcher and grouper seasons that have gotten progressively shorter each year.
Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) recently introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would halt federal funds for any new catch share programs along the Atlantic coast or Gulf of Mexico. “By gifting a select few with a stake of the annual allowable catch, catch shares amount to nothing less than a cap-and-trade management system that privatizes access to once-open waterways,” Southerland said in a press release.
Southerland's amendment passed in the House May 9, but President Barack Obama has already said that his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill if it were to make it through the Senate.
Matt Ruby, a commercial fisherman with boats docked in Little River and McClellanville, is also the president of the South Atlantic Fishermen's Association, which opposes Southerland's amendment. He said in a press release that the organization is interested in the conservation of regional fisheries.
“We believe that catch shares can be a valuable tool in the toolbox to help in that regard,” Ruby said. “And now some members of Congress want to come along and tell us what’s best for our fishermen and small businessmen. Congress does not know best what we need for our fisheriesin the South Atlantic. Those are decisions best left to the regional councils, who understand the issues confronting our industry. Inserting big government into this decisionmaking process does a disservice to communities that depend on the health of our fisheries for their livelihood.”