Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Catch shares would privatize our fish stocks

The “catch share” idea of fisheries management, discussed in the article titled “Morro fishermen back catch shares” on April 23, started with the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental group that is backed by large corp-orations such as FedEx, DuPont, McDonald’s, etc.

The federal government is currently engaged in a catch share policy that will divide up the fish stocks on the West Coast, targeting the trawl fisheries first. These fishery issues are very complicated and detailed, but the short of it is:

The catch share system distributes “shares” of fish to private entities. Small boats will receive small shares or allotments of fish, large boats will receive larger shares. Other stakeholders will also receive shares. The idea is to put a cap on the number of fish taken and stop “overfishing.”

Catch shares will privatize the fish stocks. Fish stocks have always been public domain. If a man purchased a license, he could fish. With catch shares, this will no longer be true.

There is a common misconception regarding overfishing. Overfishing today is a thing of the past. California commercial fishing has been under strict regulations for the past 20-plus years. Our local stocks are abundant and very strong, while access has been severely limited.

Some of the problems we foresee with the catch share system are that small boats that receive small allotments of fish will not be able to support their businesses and will be forced to sell their shares.

In turn, those shares will be purchased by the highest bidder — often large corporations or larger boats. This is known as stacking shares.

Corporations and larger vessels will drive the price of shares up, so that the small vessel owner will not be able to afford to stay in the fishery. The higher price of the shares will also severely limit any new fishermen from entering the business.

Once a trawler has fished his quota for the year, that vessel will move to other fisheries that do not as yet have the catch share system in place, putting an additional, unneeded pressure on stocks that are healthy.

As the catch shares get sold, the local stocks of fish will be removed from the local communities. There is a very real possibility that the permits will be purchased by outside entities.

When outside entities take the local fish, the local infrastructure will collapse, taking many jobs and a way of life with it.

The current plan calls for placing a human observer on every single fishing vessel in the catch share program. The current cost of an observer is approximately $80,000 a year. This cost is to be paid by the commercial fisherman. No small fishing vessel could possible afford this extra cost.

There are so many more reasons why the catch share concept is such a bad idea. One only need to look at the king crab fishery in Alaska to see the fallout of catch shares. Only the truly large have survived by catch share stacking and the big corporations now own a large share and dictate the market. Morro Bay commercial fishermen are not for catch shares.

Lori French is the treasurer for the Morro Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Organization.