PBN: Tumult in region’s fishing industry

Posted Aug 24, 2009
Tumult in region’s fishing industry
Federal push to manage fisheries in sectors stirs concern

By John Lee
Providence Business News Contributing Writer

Commercial fishing has a history of independence, cracked hands on the twine and the endless horizon. But by Sept. 1, roughly 650 groundfish permit-holders, mostly in New England, face a big decision: remain independent or join their fellow fishermen in a new cooperative arrangement known as a sector.

Despite the romantic notion of the independent fisherman, going it alone under the new system may make it even more difficult than it already is for most to earn a living. Yet the prospect of joining has many local fishermen worried they may be no better off, eventually squeezed out by deep-pocketed fishing concerns that could control the sectors.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will make the common pool” – the default for those who abstain from sectors – “virtually impossible to make a living out of,” said Brian Loftes, a third-generation Point Judith draggerman who owns and runs the 45-foot dayboat, Damariscotta. “So that leaves sectors. It’s hard to say how many of us will stay in the common pool, which might amount to financial suicide.”

All eyes are on New England now, as the fishing industry moves from owner-operators to corporate-owned fleets, from fish as public resource to fish as private commodity. The sector system – set up by the NMFS as an attempt to better regulate and manage the fishery – will replace the older system of days-at-sea management, in which fishing effort was controlled by giving fishermen “X” numbers of days a year to fish.

Sectors instead will move away from these input controls of time to an output control of “quantity,” the quantity of catch a given group of boats can harvest.

Article continues at Providence Business News

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