Catch Shares = Consolidation of the Seafood Industry
Why Consumers Should Care About Fishing Quota
By Rich Bindell
We talk all the time about how our food system suffers from mass consolidation. In the meat and poultry industries, just a handful of companies control the majority of the market. Well, the same thing is happening in the seafood industry. In New Bedford, Mass., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging federal catch share programs on the East Coast. Depending upon the outcome of this case, it’s either get big or get out for our nation’s fishermen, which should explain why so many of them are outraged about the state of their livelihoods.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pushes a fishery management program called catch shares, which doles out allocations of fish, giving preference to large-scale fishing operations over smaller ones. This scheme has crushed independent fishermen, as well as the coastal communities they support. Catch shares amount to an all-out attack on America’s fishermen and threaten the existence of fish as a shared public resource.
While often misleadingly touted as the solution to over-fishing, catch shares actually divvy up our nation’s fishery resources for exclusive use by the biggest and fastest fishing operations and then allow corporations and banks to buy and sell these “shares” for profit. This turns the opportunity to go fishing into a commodity. Fishermen have to buy shares before being able to head out for a day’s work catching fish for our tables.
But, don’t take our word for it; just listen to the fishermen. Food & Water Watch produced a video to give some of our nation’s fishermen a chance to express their opinions about catch shares.
As has happened with family farms on land, the added costs push smaller-scale fishermen out of business and consolidate the industry, paving the way for industrial fishing methods that can destroy sensitive ocean habitats.
Why should consumers care about catch shares? If we don’t, we’ll pay increasingly more for lower quality fish, and we’ll allow large-scale fishing operations to consolidate the seafood industry. In doing so, we’ll put smaller, independent fishing operations out of business.