Catch-share fishing quotas harm family fishers

October 28, 2009

The Honorable Senator Maria Cantwell
915 Second Avenue
Suite 3206
Seattle, WA 98174

Re:
Protecting small-scale family fishermen and our oceans

Dear Senator Cantwell,

Independent family fishermen have relied on generations of accumulated experience and local
knowledge to bring fresh, high-quality, and locally-caught seafood to our dinner tables. Their
work also supports many other community businesses, like marine supply stores, fuel suppliers,
fish houses, local restaurants, and more. Unfortunately, following similar trends in agriculture
and manufacturing, a handful of larger companies are being given the chance to dominate our
coastal fisheries. This trend toward consolidation pushes out smaller fishermen and ultimately
hurts our oceans as well as the coastal communities that depend on those oceans for their
livelihoods.

In fisheries across the United States, plans have been proposed to dramatically change the way
we manage our public fish resources. Under the guise of conservation, a proposed “catch share”
harvest quota system would allocate and privatize individual shares of the annual allowed catch
of each type of fish to fishermen. This allocation would be based primarily on how many fish
they have caught in the past. While catch shares may sound promising on paper, in practice,
these programs guarantee the future ability to fish to those who have fished the hardest and
fastest. As a result, control of our fisheries is skewed toward those larger companies primarily
interested in profit and less concerned about the long term health of fishery populations, fishing
communities, and the fragile ocean ecosystem.

The most recent example of this alarming trend is the highly controversial proposed reallocation
of Washington’s trawl catch by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC). These
amendments to the Groundfish Management Plan, published in April 2009, euphemistically
outline the “trawl rationalization” catch share program. In the Council’s proposal, the vast
majority of groundfish quota will be going to a handful of larger trawl operations, with some
20% of the valuable whiting quota going directly to fish processors, not to actual rank-and-file
commercial fishermen. Giving quota shares directly to a handful of fish processors is especially
unwise, as it converts formerly independent local fishermen essentially into sharecroppers,
prevents collective price bargaining by fishermen, eliminates all competition among processors
and sanctions a glorified form of price-fixing, which will likely harm seafood consumers in the
end.

In order to continue fishing under the proposed types of catch share system, historical family
fisherman would likely have to lease or buy the ability to fish from larger corporations, often at
cost-prohibitive prices. As a result, entry level fishermen cannot afford to enter the industry or
keep fishing, and the businesses that depend on the local fishing economy are hurt as well since
there is far less certainty (with highly portable privatized quotas) that a community’s own local
fish will actually be caught, landed or processed locally. Even more troubling, unless carefully
regulated, catch shares become highly susceptible to market manipulation and investor
speculation, and can quickly end up in the hands of financial institutions instead of historic
commercial fishing families.

Additionally, giving most of the catch to bigger fishing businesses can also mean increased use
of less ecologically friendly gear. Gear that can catch the most fish the fastest, often also can
harm or kill non-target marine wildlife and harm important ocean habitat. On the contrary, family
fishermen often fish with a different ethic toward and respect for our delicate ocean ecosystem.
Ultimately, fish are a public resource. Our tax dollars are used to oversee their management, and
this money be spent in such a way as to protect the broader public interest, not the interests of a
few large fishing operations. Our nation’s fishermen and oceans need management systems that
incorporate sound science, respect for our ocean ecosystems, and fair community participation.
Our organizations represent thousands of Washington State citizens who are concerned about
small-scale fishermen being pushed out of business by large fishing companies that are also
damaging the health of our ocean and its fish. We are commercial fishermen, fishing-related
businesses, elected officials, marine conservation organizations, ocean stakeholders and users,
ecotourism providers, beach goers, tourism organizations, and marine scientists united in our
concern for community-based small-scale fishermen and our oceans.

Therefore, we, the undersigned, urge you, our National Senator and the chairwoman of the
Senate subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard, to call for a
Congressional oversight hearing as soon as possible on catch share quota programs to help
prevent further harm to fishermen, coastal communities, marine wildlife and our oceans.

Sincerely,

PCC Natural Markets
Fair Fish Campaign Seattle
Fair Fish Campaign Tacoma
Businesses Allied for Local Living Economies (BALLE) Seattle
Community Alliance for Global Justice
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA)
Slow Food Seattle
Tahoma Audubon Society
Ballard Brothers Burgers and Seafood
Loki Fish Company
Katharine Appleyard, Sound Policy Institute, University of Puget Sound
Seattle Chef’s Collaborative
John Foss, Coastal Rovers
Tom Hanlon, LLM Marine Resource Law, University of Washington

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