Jones Amendment sets dangerous precedent

April 21, 2011

In many parts of the U.S., commercial fisheries are headed for the rocks. For those of us in the industry, the refrains are familiar: over-capitalization, overfishing, irrational top-down management schemes.

When fishermen in "dire straits" come together with fishery managers to hammer out solutions, they need to have every option available, including quota-based catch share systems. Although no two catch share programs are the same, and quotas are certainly not a fix in every fishery, they are one proven model for building both economic and environmental sustainability. Commercial fishermen and fishery managers need a full toolbox when they design the systems that make sense in their regional fisheries.

We learned last week that the recent federal budget compromise includes an amendment authored by Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina to prohibit regional fishery managers from developing or implementing catch share programs in the New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions. This is Congressional overreach at its worst. It is one thing to oppose catch share programs; it is quite another to not allow fishermen to move forward with one, even when they support it.

Thanks to the decisive action of West Coast and Alaska lawmakers, Pacific and North Pacific fishermen are exempted from this amendment's immediate effects. It is a mystery to us, however, why other members of Congress would vote to take such valuable tools away from fishermen and their fishery management councils. Perhaps they are under the impression that narrowing management options will somehow preserve fishing jobs, or discourage fleet consolidation. We respectfully suggest that they are mistaken. It is current approaches to fishery management that have led many commercial fisheries and fishing communities to the brink of economic collapse. Supporters of the Jones amendment are under-informed as to the diversity and real-world challenges of America's fishing fleets.

Here on the West Coast, it is tempting to shrug our shoulders and write off this amendment as an isolated action supported by out-of-touch lawmakers - but this amendment sets a potentially dangerous precedent. It will not streamline fishery management, or strengthen fishing communities. What it will do instead is tie the hands of fishermen as they attempt to steer clear of the rocks and develop future-focused management programs.

Tommy Ancona, President
Fishermen's Marketing Association
Brent Paine, Executive Director
United Catcher Boats
Dan Waldeck, Executive Director
Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative