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From: ~digs3/28/2007 3:31:38 AM
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Study Urges Catch Share Fishing Programs

Mar 28, 12:03 AM (ET) ; By ANDREW MIGA

WASHINGTON (AP) - Setting strict fishing limits and giving fishermen flexibility in how they divide their catch are key steps to rebuilding depleted fish stocks and saving embattled fishing communities, according to a study by an environmental group.

So-called catch share programs that allocate a percentage of the overall catch to fishermen create economic incentives while promoting healthy marine fisheries, concluded a report being released Wednesday by Environmental Defense, an environmental advocacy group.

Under catch share plans, fishermen are allowed to buy and sell shares of a fishery's total catch.

"That's the missing puzzle piece here," said David Festa, oceans program director at Environmental Defense. "When you drop that little gear into this complex mechanism, all of a sudden the watch starts to tick smoothly."

But catch-share plans, also known as limited access privileges or quotas, have generated controversy in areas such as New England where some fishermen fear the shares of smaller boats would be bought up by big corporations bent on monopolizing the region's centuries-old industry.

Some critics also see it as privatization of a public resource.

"It's supposed to be a national resource that belongs to everyone," said Jim Kendall, a New Bedford, Mass., seafood industry consultant. "What about the people who are excluded from the fishery? How do you treat people fairly? Who decides?"

If a fishery is well-managed, the value of shares owned by fishermen should increase as science-based conservation measures take hold and the fishery rebounds, Festa said. That would give fishermen a stronger interest in making sure stocks aren't depleted, he added.

Fishermen already operate under a complex system of federal regulations as government regulators wrestle with overfishing and collapsing fisheries. The 14-month, $1.2 million study focused on 10 fisheries in the United States and Canada that use catch-share programs. Environmental Defense said it was the largest such study since Congress lifted its moratorium on catch-share programs five years ago.

The report comes more than two months after President Bush signed into law a major bill that overhauled management of marine fisheries and boosted protections of dwindling stocks. The reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act supports catch-share programs, said Festa.


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