Maine Fishing: Protecting an Occupation and an Identity

The Magnuson-Stevens Act was reauthorized by the House late last week, making it one of the last pieces of legislation voted on by the 109th Congress. The bill was the product of tireless bipartisan negotiations, and I believe the result will sustain both our fish stocks and our fishing communities. I was proud to work with my friend, Rep. Nick Rahall, to lead the House in this effort.

In Maine, fishing is not just an occupation; it is a part of our identity. Our fishing industry consists mostly of small boat owners, many of whom come from generations of fishermen. Maine fishermen want progressive management policies that will sustain fish stocks, so that not only can they continue to catch fish tomorrow or next week, but so can their children and grandchildren. They need management policies that will provide long-term security for both themselves and the fish.

The Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization is a big win for the small boat fishermen in my district in Maine. Limited access privilege programs, or LAPPs, are a major concern for fishermen back home. LAPPs are market-based management tools that allocate percentages of the annual catch among fishermen. LAPPs can be legitimate fisheries management tools. However, if not structured properly, LAPPs can effectively privatize a public resource, and in the drive toward industry efficiency, will cause excessive and inequitable consolidation at the expense of small-scale fishermen.

New Zealand, for example, instituted a LAPP more than 15 years ago. Today three large companies own roughly 70 percent of the fishery. Small-scale rural fishermen were pushed out as wealthier boat owners bought up all the quota shares. Thankfully, this bill includes strong protections to prevent this. In particular, it includes a 10 year renewable term limit on quota shares granted under a LAPP. This will maintain public ownership of the fishery by forcing program participants to be held accountable while keeping quota prices down for smaller fishermen.

Maine’s fishing industry is hundreds of years old. It is our responsibility to enact protections to ensure that our fishing traditions will continue for generations to come. I am proud and grateful to have had a hand in crafting this bipartisan legislation.

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