Fishermen "welcome" Mr. Obama
A flotilla of five commercial fishing vessels sailed from New Bedford into Vineyard Haven Harbor Tuesday afternoon to draw attention to issues facing the fishing industry. The draggers, horns blaring, made two slow circles between the harbor breakwater and Tisbury Wharf before departing for Oak Bluffs on their way to offshore fishing grounds.
One of the vessels had a large banner hanging from the side that said, "Catch shares, corporate shares," a reference to a new regulatory framework known as catch shares. Another dragger carried a banner that said, "Fishing families are working families."
Bob Vanasse, executive director of Saving Seafood, an industry newsletter, said the parade of vessels was not a protest. "We are welcoming the President," he said.
The commercial fishermen are concerned about a proposal that would divide up fishery resources into "catch shares" that could be allocated to commercial interests.
Catch shares work by granting access to a secure share of the total allowed catch to individual fishermen, communities or fishery associations.
"We hope as the Obamas enjoy their vacation, they will eat some of our famous New England seafood," Mr. Vanasse said in a press release. "And we trust that given the President's concern for working families, he will remember the fishermen."
The fishing vessels had been in port to wait out Hurricane Bill. Mr. Vanasse said they decided to take advantage of the President's visit to raise the visibility of the issues they face.
The Tisbury and Oak Bluffs harbormasters were aware of their route and had been helpful, Mr. Vanesse said. Their main concern had been that there be no disruptions.
Mr. Vanasse told The Times in a telephone call from a boat that accompanied the fishing vessels to Martha's Vineyard Tuesday afternoon that many people think of Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sounds and the waters around Cape Cod as a playground. "It is also a work place," he said, "and we wanted to welcome President Obama to our work place."
Mr. Vanasse said commercial fishermen face an increasingly complex web of NOAA government management measures that restrict their ability to fish while providing little or no benefit to the fish stocks they target. While catch share management might well improve the regulatory framework now in place, the move to implement it in the New England groundfish fishery is taking place too fast, he said.
Fishermen are being asked to join sectors by September 1, even though the rules and regulations and quotas would not be set until late this year or possibly in 2010. "We are being asked to take a blind leap into an uncertain future," he wrote. "The government is replacing a system that we know has failed, with one that we hope will work. This change will force an unprecedented social transition for our fishermen without a solid understanding of the consequences."
One concern is that catch shares would create the opportunity for significant moneyed interests from outside the commercial fishing industry to buy up the vast majority of fishing permits. These interests might not be local, and might even be foreign. "We fear the loss of the family-owned boat in fishing," Mr. Vanasse said.