After 6 months of controversy and debate, 2-weeks ago, in November 2011, members of a U.S. Senate committee have blocked future consideration to the Jones Amendment. The amendment was designed to halt the proliferation of catch shares.
Just days earlier it appeared the legislation was doing well. Now, that may be all for naught. The amendment was not added to an appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice and Science. If added, it would have stopped the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funding for expanding its catch share management policy.
The Jones amendment passed the House by 10 votes last January, and the Senate watered it down a bit, but the funding ban stretched from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The New England groundfishery began operating under the catch share system in May 2010.
In New England, the NOAA Science Center in Woods Hole has recently released a study showing 20 percent of the groundfishing boats in the nation's newest and most complex catch share fishery has experienced concentration of shares into a small number of hands, producing the elimination of a number of small boats and businesses, including 21 boats which dropped out of the 96-boat Gloucester fleet.
Catch shares and NOAA’s policy are blamed by many fishermen for forcing fishing industry consolidation and the near-extinction of the small, independent fisherman. The policy is the work of the Obama administration and NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco. It introduced without notice and without congressional consent.
The Jones amendment was supported by House Speaker John Boehner, who in October began promoting a pro-small fisherman stance. In February, the amendment, named after Rep. Walter Jones, (R- N.C.), who introduced it, won House approval with people like Massachusetts Democrats John Tierney and Barney Frank crossing the aisle.NOAA officials petitioned hard and were successful in blocking the effort.
On Saturday, Feb. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would stop the funding of catch share programs. Amendment #548 to H.R. 1, sponsored by Jones and cosponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) passed with a vote of 259-159. Both Republicans (208) and Democrats (51) approved the measure.
The Amendment prevents the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from spending money to enact new limited access, or catch share fishing programs. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, it would prevent spending on new catch shares programs by the South Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, New England or Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Councils.
Food & Water Watch recently reported on the catch share regimen covering the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery since 2007. Food & Water Watch is a watchdog designed to protect food and water resources. They have been a vocal critic of catch shares, which limits access and allocates wild resources, encouraging consolidation among fishermen and “commodity market” trading. Red snapper was the first Gulf fishery to be managed as a commodities market.
Under catch shares, Food & Water Watch said the red snapper fishery has shrunk by 44 percent. Fisheries, including the New England groundfishery, are being forced to use catch shares. Expansion of catch share programs has been aggressively promoted by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). EDF hired at least four Washington, D.C., lobbying firms and spent at least $250,000 fighting against the Jones amendment, according to the OpenSecrets.org, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics.
In the end it didn’t matter that a bipartisan group of congressmen; 35 additional members, could not sway the vote. About 24 legislators, mostly Republicans from districts along the Gulf of Mexico and the deep South, signed a letter by Florida Congressman Steve Southerland II, asking both the Appropriations panel and the subcommittee to expand the scope of the proposed ban from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf coast as well.
According to Richard Gaines of The Gloucester Times, “one amendment that was added to the Commerce, Science And Justice spending bill for fiscal 2012 requires NOAA to report to the Senate Appropriations Committee within two years on the feasibility of moving the Northeast Regional Office, which was rebuilt in Gloucester three years ago at a cost of $15 million, to Baltimore.” Eric Schwaab, appointed by Lubchenco to head NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, had been a career bureaucrat in Maryland. The amendment was filed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, one of the 11 Democrats among 18 senators on the conference committee.