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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Shame on NOAA

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

Did you hear about the case of the 'Codfather' and how New England's largest fleet owner recently pled guilty to charges of fraud and corruption? If you haven't heard of him, listen to this Morning Edition piece. And today well guess what ... NOAA just opened the door for many sequels to the 'Codfather."

Today NOAA Fisheries announced its final ruling to approve Amendment 18 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management 'Catch Share' Plan. Instead of safeguarding against fleet consolidation and fisheries privatization -- which they claim the amendment will do -- this plan actually green lights the 'too big to fail' approach to fisheries management with no real safeguards or transparency in sight. The same policies that allowed the 'Codfather' to thrive will be going on unchecked. Shame on NOAA.

Voices of the vast majority of fishing community and public were ignored during this public process. Instead of listening to the 300+ public comments, dozens of in person testimonies from a diversity of fishermen, food advocates, and others, NOAA and the Council decided to listen to Catch Share advocates such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and their allies, and those in the fishing industry who were looking to make a killing through Catch Shares.

To accommodate them, agendas were shifted. Microphones were turned off. I was personally called an 'asshole' by the Council Chairman during a public hearing for insisting the public have a fair say while he was trying to shut down public input.

What this process has revealed is how the democratic process was subverted to make it easy for adopting fisheries management plans that privatize, consolidate, and corporatize our public resource and the ocean commons at serious environmental, economic, social, and food access costs.

One of those individuals whose interests were favored over all the other voices was Mr. Carlos Rafael, the 'Codfather.'  Scallop and groundfish Catch Share policies gave him the ability to dominate both fisheries and control pretty much the entire system: the quota, permits, boats, processing, transportation, the whole gamut.

Five years ago I spoke at a Fisheries Council meeting about the need for safeguards to protect against Catch Share policy that was consolidating the fleet and privatizing fisheries access. Mr. Rafael followed my testimony by pledging $10 million to fight any attempts to stop consolidation and he threatened to tie up NOAA with legal battles.

Ultimately, Mr. Rafael and his Catch Share allies influenced the Council Amendment process ensuring that his quota shares would not be impacted. In fact, NOAA's final numbers (5% limit on permits and 15% on quota) were specifically designed to avoid affecting Mr. Rafael's business. Although it wasn't written explicitly, listening to Council discussions makes it pretty clear what took place.

Thanks to NOAA's actions, the same policy that allowed Mr. Rafael to thrive is still in place paving the way for a few entities - who are not necessarily people who actually fish - to control almost the entire system. Community-based fishermen are no longer in control of their how they should fish, where they should fish, when they should fish, and the scale of operation that best fits who they are and how they want to operate. All these factors have ecological consequences, so ultimately fishermen aren't the only ones harmed by bad policies like Catch Shares; the fish and the ocean also lose.

As NAMA we will not stand for this. Despite this process not leading to the right outcomes, this process has strengthened our network and deepened our connections to community based fishermen and unlikely allies who would have otherwise not paid attention to fisheries issues. The issues surrounding Catch Share policies are not unique to New England. They are spreading throughout the United States and around the Globe. Check out the Global Ocean Grab report from our friends the World Forum of Fisher Peoples.

We must continue organizing and building strength for fishing communities. We must continue to reject false solutions like Catch Shares that claim to benefit the marine ecosystem. And we must continue to hold NOAA fisheries more accountable to the public and less accountable to those who are pushing for these policies for all the wrong reasons.