During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte reiterated her concerns with overregulation of the fishing industry. Senator Ayotte questioned Dr. Rebecca Blank, the President's nominee to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce, specifically about the catch shares program that is having a detrimental impact on New Hampshire's fishing community.
Unofficial transcript of exchange (click here for video):
AYOTTE: "When you and I met we talked about my concerns with overregulation of the fishing industry and particularly the catch shares program. In fact, Senator Brown and I have been so worried about our fishermen that we've introduced a bill, as you're familiar with, that would actually eliminate that program because of the detrimental impact on our small fishermen and to commercial and recreational fishing. You said you'd work closely with NOAA to make sure its fisheries management programs are implemented effectively....What do you think went wrong in implementing the catch shares program and how would you go about improving the program to make sure that we don't eliminate these fishermen...?
BLANK: Catch shares is one program to manage fish stocks; it's not the only program. And it has been implemented in a number of places around the country quite successfully. There clearly have been some more problems in New England....I think that there has not been as much consultation back and forth in terms of NOAA's interactions with some of the fisheries councils in an open and completely transparent way with some of the fisheries councils in the New England region. That has been a problem. We've obviously in the past had some problems with our law enforcement that I think we've completely cleaned up....And I think we've sometimes not been quite as transparent as we need to be about the science - the basis on which we set various stocks and decide...what the catches should be. We have to be quite clear about what that's based on and why we're saying what we're saying. And on both those issues, I think transparency and communication and collaboration are most important.
AYOTTE: "This is a very important issue to a noble profession in the Northeast and I'm hopeful that we will start a relationship where there is that communication transparency and that laws are enforced fairly and not to eliminate these fishermen...this livelihood has been in their families, and it's something that we want to preserve in New England and obviously keep those jobs."
In response to serious concerns raised by New Hampshire and Massachusetts fishermen, Senator Ayotte, along with Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), introduced legislation that would require the Secretary of Commerce to terminate new and existing catch share programs that result in a 15 percent or more reduction in the total number of fishermen in the program, and develop a new management plan within one year. The Ayotte-Brown "Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011" would also give local fishing communities more control during the program establishment process, and protect taxpayers from shouldering additional costs associated with implementing and managing new catch share programs.
Under regulations that went into effect in May 2010, fishermen purchase permits that allocate their total allowable catch per year. Fishermen in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have expressed concerns that the system is unfairly skewed toward larger fleets, which have more capital to collect permits and were able to present better fishing histories when permits were originally allocated. Five months after federal catch shares were implemented in New England, 55 out of the original 500 boats in the fishery controlled 61 percent of the revenue, and 253 of the boats were sitting at the dock, unable to fish without quota.