At the intersection of marine conservation and social, economic, environmental and food justice

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Flexibility in Fisheries Management is Key Piece of Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization Process

This post comes to us from Tyler Mac Innis, the Emerson National Hunger Fellow at the National Family Farm Coalition.

Things move slowly here. 

On May 29, the House Natural Resources Committee marked up its version of the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA) and passed the bill to the House floor. 

The move comes as a key first step to the reauthorization process, though there are still many more to come. While a definitive timeline is unclear, it seems that any sort of finalized version will take some time. 

Last week’s reshuffling in GOP House leadership shocked many in Washington and delayed many pieces of legislation slated to be voted on before MSA would be brought to the floor. In the Senate, Magnuson Stevens has yet to make it out of sub-committee.

While we may not know when the debate will happen in the House, we do have some insight into what issues will be debated on the floor. Central to the debate in the Natural Resources Committee mark up was how to increase flexibility in fisheries management. 

Representatives from both parties and both coasts discussed the need to increase flexibility in managing fish stocks and raised concerns about how the bill does that in its current form.

Catch limits remain in the House version of the bill. Councils would not be required to develop catch limits for ecosystem component species, species with a lifecycle of one year, and stocks for which “more than half of a single-year class will complete their life cycle in less than 18 months and fishing mortality will have little impact on the stock.” 

An amendment offered by Rep. Southerland (R-FL), and agreed to by the committee would prohibit the Secretary of Commerce from counting illegally caught fish against the total catch of the fishery.

Catch shares also remain in place, though the bill includes a pilot program for a referendum process. The proposed pilot program would apply to the New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico Councils only. If passed, the pilot program would require any fishery management plan or amendment that creates a catch share program for a fishery to be approved by a majority vote of permit holders. 

An amendment offered by Rep. Southerland and agreed to by the committee, would prohibit Gulf of Mexico catch shares from being sold or traded to entities in other sectors.

Management councils need robust data in order to set accurate annual catch limits.  The House version of MSA contains provisions to increase data collection by requiring the Secretary of Commerce to create regulations governing the use of electronic monitoring of fisheries. 

Acknowledging concerns around data collection, the bill includes provisions to protect confidential data which is defined as trade secrets, proprietary information, observer information, and “commercial or financial information the disclosure of which is likely to result in harm to the competitive position of the person that submitted the information to the [Secretary of Commerce].”

The National Family Farm Coalition, along with the Fish Locally Collaborative, will continue to monitor the reauthorization process. Click here to read the House version of the bill. To watch the Natural Resources Committee mark up click here. The mark up begins around the 43:00 minute mark.

Monday, June 16, 2014

FISH + OCEAN GRABBING: The case of commercial fisheries

This article was first presented by Seth Macinko and Brett Tolley at the Left Forum on June 1, 2014

On April 8, 2009, a story in the New York Times quoted the administrator of NOAA (the federal agency in charge of managing OUR oceans) as saying that NOAA was “taking preliminary steps toward privatizing fisheries” (in New England). We submit that if the director of the Forest Service or the National Park Service, or the Bureau of Land Management was quoted as saying those agencies were taking preliminary steps towards privatizing public forests, national parks, or public rangelands, that there would be an immediate outcry from “the left.” And yet, there was no outcry whatsoever. Fisheries policy occupies a distinctly unique position in American environmental policy--- the singular solution to fisheries management problems now embraced by both the left and the right is to privatize access “rights” bestowed freely and in perpetuity to select members of industry. What is so different about fisheries?


When the US Congress created a 200-mile offshore zone in 1976, the fishery resources within that zone became a public asset for US citizens. Given continual concerns about overfishing of certain fish stocks, fisheries economists (and others) have settled on the idea of setting scientifically-determined catch limits that are then divided into individual catch assignments for each boat that is fishing a particular stock. But this simple tool (pre-assigned catch) is being wrapped up in an ideological embrace of private property rights that states that only with private ownership can fish stocks be saved. 

The alleged problem is a lack of ownership and invocation of Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” is ubiquitous in the explanations of the push for privatization. Notably, the pre-assignments of catch are not lease auctions as is done with timber or offshore oil and gas resources, but simply given away for free and talked about as the personal property of the lucky giftees—theirs to sell or lease as they wish. The public asset has instantly become a private asset.

This give-away is countenanced by the left and the right with sagacious commentary about how the owners will now have an incentive to conserve their new valuable assets—“the ownership promotes stewardship thesis.”


Fisheries resources already have an owner. The American public. If fisheries are poorly managed, it is due to poor management, not a lack of ownership. Hardin was wrong, as he later admitted when he stated that he should have entitled his famous essay “the tragedy of the unmanaged commons.” The idea that private owners will automatically act as stewards to preserve their assets was proven dramatically na├»ve by the world financial crisis of 2008 (when Alan Greenspan confessed to Congress that he was in “shocked disbelief” to learn that self-interest was not sufficient to protect financial assets). Again, fisheries policy stands out for its bizarre uniqueness: what is demonstrably bad for banks, is good for fish.


CASE 1: In 2013 Lion Capital, a British private equity firm, paid $980 million to acquire Bumble Bee Foods and Bumble Bee’s subsidiary Snow’s Inc, which included the exclusive property rights to 23 percent of the United States’ clams, which makes up a quarter of the national supply.

CASE 2: In 2010, the Carlyle Group, the second-largest private equity firm in the world, acquired the China Fishery Group, whose fleet covers the Arctic to the South Pacific and supplies fish across the globe. Following the Carlyle acquisition, the China Fishery Group released a new business strategy, which included buying shares in global fisheries. The company now owns nearly 20 percent of Peru’s fishing region. It also owns shares in the North Pacific.

According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, Catch shares have been backed by an alliance of conservative, free-market advocates and environmental groups, some of which have financed scientific studies promoting the merits of the system. The Walton Foundation, according to its website, spent $20 million in 2012 to promote Catch Share programs.

“Conservative interests – many of them free-market advocates, including the Charles Koch Foundation and the Reason Foundation” – have aligned with progressive groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund to fuel a heavily funded campaign to consolidate the fishing industry.”


“Fishermen are becoming like sharecroppers and tenant farmers, getting paid much lower rates. Money is taken directly out of fishing communities and transferred to Wall Street,” fisherman Zeke Grader, Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

Major impacts include job loss, infrastructure loss, reduction in number of boats with a disproportionate impact to the smallest-scale fishers, ecological damage, and loss of access and control over local food.


People are being scared into accepting the privatization of their fishery resources by seemingly daily news stories about the overfishing of the oceans. But, as above, we have a management problem, not a property problem. For fisheries where pre-assigning catch makes sense, this can be done through public leasing of catch assignments with significant safeguards in place to ensure the greatest benefit to the nation and health of the ocean is reached. (analogous to timber and oil leasing). Real stewardship will come from concerted efforts to change our view of natural resources, not ideologically-infused missions to privatize public resources.


Visit to learn more about the “Who Fishes Matters” campaign and visit to contribute to the National Family Farm Coalition’s new Farmland Monitor, a farmer-and-fisher-powered website for posting information on resource grabs.

  • Seth Macinko is a professor at the Department of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island.
  • Brett Tolley is a fourth-generation commercial fishing family member and is the Community Organizer for the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Common values build trust. Trust fosters teamwork. Teamwork gets things done!

This post comes to us from Brett Tolley, NAMA's community organizer. 

“Collaborate for impact, make connections, learn and innovate, catalyze change, dwell in possibilities, incite hope and the love that does justice.”

I read this quote the other day on the Interaction Institute’s blog and immediately scratched the words into my mini-chalkboard, hanging on the wall in my Brooklyn apartment where I’ve spent the past couple months thinking a lot about collaboration.

What does collaboration mean? What are the conditions that help a collaborative succeed or fail?

These questions have been on my mind a lot lately because at NAMA we’ve been partnering in several network building and collaborative change efforts – from the Coming Clean Collaborative, to the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, to the New England Food Solutions Network (just to name a few). 

Back in April the Fish Locally Collaborative held its 3rd Assembly in New Bedford, MA. Over 60 people from around the world attended, including fishermen, fishing families, youth activists, food justice advocates, health care system workers, conservation groups, new economy people, and more. 

We're all working to advance a collaborative model that we believe will shift the seafood system, protect the ocean, and ensure a future for community-based fishermen.

You can hear more about the FLC Assembly on Susan Youman’s radio program “What’s for Dinner?” where she interviewed me last week. 

But what exactly makes a collaborative?

Is it simply having the whole be greater than the sum of its parts? Take this cartoon for instance. 

Or is it more than that, where strategy and vision are involved? Here is another definition.

Collaboration is “a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties to achieve common goals by sharing responsibility, authority and accountability for achieving results. It is more than simply sharing knowledge and information (communication) and more than a relationship that helps each party achieve its own goals (cooperation and coordination). The purpose of collaboration is to create a shared vision and joint strategies to address concerns that go beyond the purview of any particular party.”
                               - David Chrislip and Chip Larson, 1994, p. 5

One more thing I think these definitions leave out - which I've found to be key: values.

Underpinning any collaborative, network, or movement’s long-term success is a strong set of values. Values unite people on a fundamental level and help build trust. Trust fosters more effective teamwork and teamwork gets things done!

FLC principles: transparency, collaboration, justice, capacity-building, 
respect, inclusivity, openness, accountability. 

A clear set of values can build bridges across any one given issue and can allow us to see others’ struggles in our own. One of the most common bridges that link the struggle of family fishers is the struggle of family farmers - and this bridge allows us to collaborate across movements. 

Next week, we'll see this in action at the NYC Left Forum where NAMA will be on a panel with FLC members and collaborators at the National Family Farm Coalition to talk about fish grabs and land grabs. It's a great example of where our overlapping values can amplify our messages. 

I’m motivated and energized by watching the Fish Locally Collaborative evolve. What started six years ago with a dozen people in Maine has now grown to include nearly 500 individuals and 60 organizations representing 400,000 fishing families around the states and internationally. New England, Alaska, British Columbia, Mexico, Nova Scotia, Italy, France, Oregon, Gulf of Mexico, South Carolina, California, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean."
     -Ryunosuke Satoro

To learn more about the Fish Locally Collaborative visit: