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
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
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,
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
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.