Fish are a public resource, but under catch shares programs, businesses are able to buy, sell and lease fishing “quota”, thereby privatizing our fisheries. Market forces largely replace government management and make the fishery accessible only to those who can afford it.
A reprehensible goal of catch share systems, particularly in these tough economic times, is to reduce the number of participants in the fishery, disproportionately affecting smaller scale fishermen. Catch shares are initially given to fishermen based on how much they have caught during a period of time determined by the agency. Those who have caught the most, and then those large corporations and banks that have the most capital to buy and lease shares after the programs start, are able to gain substantial control over the entire fishery.

Smaller-scale traditional fishermen are pushed out of the fishery, as larger companies – ones that often use fishing practices that stress ocean ecosystems, begin to dominate.  Coastal communities struggle as fishermen lose their livelihoods. This, in turn, increases unemployment rates and adversely affects local economies. 
Congress has passed a measure to ensure that no federal funds would be used for the approval of certain new catch share programs in fiscal year 2011. But this protection needs to be carried forward into 2012 through Jones’ amendment.

What’s more, to extend these safeguards to all fishing communities and to protect our food system for years to come, legislation is needed that addresses job loss, the privatization of our public trust resources, and industry consolidation.

It is critical Congress champion this issue by introducing or cosponsoring such legislation and supporting measures to prohibit NOAA from implementing new catch share programs in fiscal year 2012. 

Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.