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THE campaigning group, Food & Water Watch, yesterday launched a campaign calling on the US Congress to stop the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from further expand the catch share system for fisheries management.

The organisation claims that the system is ‘widely unpopular’ and has resulted in job loss for thousands of fishermen across the United States.

The national consumer advocacy group also released a report revealing that the number of catch share programmes, which grant once-public access to fish to private interests, have increased by 150 percent (from 6 to 15) in the United States in less than a decade, while NOAA plans to expand the programmes by an additional 33 percent in the next 5 years.

“Fish are a public resource. Unfortunately, private investment groups and even some public interest groups have shamelessly and publicly compared access to fish to the stock market and are treating it like an investment that can be bought and sold for personal profit,” said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director. “They’re aiming to model the fishing business after big agribusiness on land, with giant commercial operations controlling the market.”

Food & Water Watch call catch shares a means to essentially privatise fishing dividing up the fish in any given region and granting access to certain companies and individuals — giving fishing privileges to fewer, often larger corporate interests while pushing out smaller-scale, more traditional fishermen.

As a result, catch shares consolidate the fishing industry. According to the report, in 2010, about five months after a catch shares programme began in New England, 55 of the initial 500 boats in the fishery controlled 61 percent of the revenue.

The amount of fish given to a fisherman through a catch share programme, also known as quota, is often leased out for profit rather than fished by the quota owner. Last year in New England, for example, 253 of the 500 boats remained docked, unable to fish because they were not granted enough quota and could not afford to purchase more.

The New England catch share programme prompted the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford, Mass., along with local fishermen and advocates, to file a suit challenging its legality. Additional lawsuits are ongoing in the Gulf of Mexico and, most recently, the Pacific Coast.

Numerous New England fishermen and their supporters attended Food & Water Watch’s campaign kickoff on Thursday in New Bedford.

“Food & Water Watch is a great ally of the fishing families in New Bedford and other port communities," New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang said. "They understand the fishery management issues and have arrived at their positions on catch shares using an objective analysis. New Bedford appreciates Food & Water Watch’s efforts to educate the American public on this important issue.”

"The massive loss of jobs within the fishing industry is directly correlated to the catch share programme,” said Tina Jackson, President of the American Alliance for Fishermen and their Communities and a commercial fisherman and lobsterman herself. “It is vitally necessary for Congress to put forth legislation to halt any further programmes of this nature and save the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. that will be lost if NOAA's national catch share policy is allowed to be implemented."

Last April, amidst national concern over wasteful government spending, Congress voted to defund catch shares for fiscal year 2011.

“We hope that Congress will continue in this sensible direction and defund catch shares permanently,” Hauter said. “The last thing our government should be doing during the recession is spending taxpayer dollars on a programme that puts thousands out of work.”

Proponents of catch shares have argued that they help combat overfishing. According to the report, however, catch share programmes have shown little evidence that they increase fish stocks. In Norway, cod stocks dropped to their lowest level ever in 2006 after years of catch shares management.

The full Fish, Inc. report can be found at http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/fish-inc/.

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