shares: How NOAA and the Environmental Defense
Fund plan to destroy North Carolina’s working watermen
father was 24 years old, he returned to Hatteras from Long Island, New
York. He returned because the Great Depression had left him
jobless and standing in a bread line. He came back home and he moved
back in with his parents. He returned so that he could have a
place to sleep and a meal that he had provided for himself, a meal that
he earned by commercial fishing with his father on the family-owned
While fishing the family boat commercially for the meager income
provided by fish prices during the depression, he did what young people
in America have always done --- he dreamed of his future and he hatched
a plan. The plan he hatched was crazy. The elders
village told him so. They said it would not work. They shook their
heads at his ideas.
And he did what the young in America have always done -- he put his
crazy plan in motion. He started an offshore charter fishing
fleet. He launched the first of three Albatross boats in 1937
with charter fishing as his top priority and with commercial fishing as
And just how did that crazy charter fishing concept work out?
Well, in a study sanctioned by North Carolina Sea Grant and carried out
by economists and a sociologist from the University of North
Carolina-Wilmington and North Carolina State University, the charter
fishing business is now a $650 million dollar a year industry for North
Carolina with two thirds of that revenue coming from visitors from out
of state. Not so crazy after all.
And how much does the state of North Carolina spend promoting its
charter fishing industry? The answer is zero ($0.00) dollars.
That lack of government support has never been an issue or concern for
North Carolina’s fishermen. Why? Because the same
independent -- some would say hard-headed -- drive and determination
that fueled my father’s belief in his dream continues to fuel the
dreams and ambitions of the men and women who make a living by fishing
both charter and commercially today.
Since the founding of this state, it has been accepted as fact that if
you work hard, if you persevere, if you are determined, and if you are
lucky, you can be a fisherman. You can own your boat. You can
your own boss. You can feed your family and the larger community. And
you can put smiles on the faces and adventurous memories in the minds
of countless charter customers who you help experience the wonder and
mysteries of our waters.
The only apparent problem with this scenario of being independent, of
being a self reliant contributor to society, of providing a service for
others is that you do not necessarily get rich. The fishermen
not seem to find this to be a problem, but an alleged environmental
group called the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) does.
That’s right, even though its employees do not live here or
for a living, this group has decided that North Carolina’s fishing
communities need to be fixed. Or, in their words, they need
EDF has published an endless stream of slick brochures and
publications, held numerous conferences, and attempted to enlist
numerous fishermen in an attempt to explain how society -- make that
the government -- can implement a plan that will “create
The plan is called catch shares. If you eat fish or like to
fish, catch shares will affect you.
Catch shares are here. They are, as you read this, being
implemented by NOAA through the National Marine Fisheries Service. The
goal is to reduce the number of working watermen in the United States
by more than 60 percent. The propaganda “informs” fishermen
the ones left standing, after their neighbors are economically
destroyed, will be able to get rich and somehow fishing towns and
villages will then “be vibrant.”
Welcome to catch shares. They are designed to kill off the
fishermen. The infrastructure will then die and then somehow,
according to the slick brochures produced by EDF and edited by the
finest legal minds they can hire, fewer fishing boats and fewer
fishermen will result in “vibrant fishing communities.”
Just what is a catch share? A catch share is an exclusive
guarantee that whoever holds the catch share has the exclusive right to
harvest a certain percentage of the total allowable catch of a
particular species of marine life. That’s a mouthful, and you
read it correctly.
It does not grant the right to catch a certain number of fish each
year. How many fish can be caught is a number that National
Marine Fisheries Service already determines and has imposed on
fishermen for years. So if catch shares is not about saving fish, since
we already have that scientific process in place, you may be wondering
just what the purpose is.
The catch share program is not about how many fish can be
Catch shares is only about who gets to catch fish. Catch
can be bought, they can be sold, and they can be leased or
So the logical question is what is the conservation advantage of catch
shares? The answer is that there is no conservation
advantage. Catch shares policy is about taking the right to
away from the masses, from those individuals who want to become
fishermen for a lifetime or for a day, and giving that right to harvest
fish to a select few. Catch shares is designed to privatize
ocean. As a free American citizen, you might want to think
that one for awhile.
Who will get catch shares? Basically, it will be those with the best
past history of landings. That’s right -- those who have
the most in the past will be selected to keep on fishing -- in the name
of conservation and, of course, “vibrant fishing communities.”
But it gets a lot more interesting and complicated than the simple
picture I’ve presented. You see, the Environmental Defense
has been the driving force behind this concept. The group has spent
thousands and thousands of dollars promoting this concept.
the name of full disclosure, I went to Vancouver, B.C., on EDF’s dime
to learn about it.)
Now what did EDF do in the spring of 2009? Why they sent
second ranking employee -- a $300,000-a- year lawyer -- to a national
conference of investment brokers and venture capitalists to spread the
word about an investment opportunity, something called catch
shares. That’s right. EDF thinks that Wall Street should own
So if Wall Street owns catch shares, where do you think North
Carolina’s small-time fishermen fit in? Seen any evidence
that Wall Street has any concern about increasing the number of
“vibrant fishing communities?” And yet apparently EDF wants
Street to own catch shares.
This corporate ownership of exclusive rights is not a wild
It is a reality.
The Alaskan king crab fishery is Exhibit A, and in the four years since
the imposition of catch shares the crew member shares of the catch have
dropped from 50 percent to 30 percent, while the fleet has decreased by
Okay, so most of you are not worried about what happens to the
commercial sector of fishing.
Well, last week NOAA publically announced that it wants all
professional fishermen to be controlled by catch shares.
right. Charter boats and headboats are the next to have catch
shares. Having previously begun implementation in the commercial sector
in Alaska and New England, NOAA and National Marine Fisheries have made
public the plan to begin implementation in the recreational sector --
with charter boats and headboats the first targets.
Worldwide various forms of catch shares have been in place for over 25
years. Where implemented, the least amount that the local
fleets have been diminished is 30 percent.
I suspect that I am not the only one who thinks that what North
Carolina needs right now is an economic boost rather than another
economic hit. Further reducing the ability of the
charter/headboat industry to produce revenue sounds like economic
Well, you may be thinking that at least that those who want catch
shares are leaving the recreational fishermen who do not fish on
charter boats alone. You might want to be aware that a plan
already been suggested that, in the Gulf of Mexico, recreational
fishing rights should be sold to the highest bidder. First,
come after the commercials, then we get the charters, and next we go
after those recreational types.
The concept of catch shares is straight forward. The
right to harvest fish will be owned by the entity with the most money,
period! And those individual owner/operators? Well, they are
quaint and they might be good for tourism because of all that local
color stuff, but they are just going to have to adjust and get a job
with a corporation. After all, coastal fishing communities
just filled with job opportunities.
Catch shares policy is about ownership not conservation! We already
have Total Allowable Catch (TAC). TAC already controls how many fish
are caught annually. In spite of what you may have read, TAC
controls are already in place. For example, North Carolina’s
bluefin tuna landings in the recreational sector were completely shut
down in the late ’90s during the height of our season for two years in
a row because of TAC concerns. Violators were fined $25,000,
needless to say, they were few and far between.
Catch shares is not a stock management issue. It is an ownership issue.
How soon will catch shares be coming to a marina near you?
answer is that they will be coming very soon unless our elected leaders
act immediately. The head of NOAA, Dr. Janet Lubchenco,
for and closely with the Environmental Defense Fund prior to her
appointment to head NOAA by President Obama.
In recent weeks, EDF had a conference in Wyoming (yes, Wyoming) to
develop final implementation plans for the recreational sector catch
shares. Why an ENGO – environmental non-government organization -- is
about the business of developing government policy is, to say the
On Nov. 4, Eric Schwabb, assistant administrator for fisheries,
released the formal NOAA announcement that catch shares are coming to
the recreational sector.
If we want to see coastal heritage and traditions vanish, we should
simply do nothing. If we believe that the right to fish
the exclusive right of those who have the deepest pockets, we should
simply do nothing. If we believe that reducing the ability of
coastal citizens to generate income and pay more taxes is good for our
state’s economy, we should simply do nothing.
On a personal note, I suspect -- perhaps hope is the better word –
that, as the owner of a long standing and reasonably successful charter
fishing operation, I will get enough catch shares to continue in
However, when I went to Vancouver to learn about catch shares, I heard
incessantly about their great monetary value and that raised a
question. So, I asked the man who developed the Canadian
“How could a young person ever become an owner/operator fisherman with
this additional expense?” And he answered after a long pause,
“We’re still working on that!”
There is something sadly, tragically wrong when a nation’s government
deliberately creates a mechanism that denies the next generation its
right to dream. I want no part of catch shares.
Foster is a Hatteras Island native who, after a career in education,
returned to Hatteras village and is now captain of the Albatross
Fleet. He supports groups that fight to save the heritage of
fishing, such as North Carolina Watermen United, and is also a board
member of the North Carolina Coastal Federation.)
Shout NO to Catch Shares
Please contact our representatives in Washington, D.C., and tell them
you support their fight against catch shares. Phone calls are
most effective means.
U.S. House of Representatives: Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., who
leading the charge
State Office: 800-351-1697 (free from NC
Representatives, Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
State Office: 910-815-4959
V.S. Senate, Richard Burr, R-N.C.
State Office: 800-685-8916 (free from NC
U.S. Senate: Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
State Office: 336-333-5311
Please let Governor Beverly Perdue know of your actions with a call or
copy her on the e-mail.
NC Governor: Beverly Perdue
If you are from outside our district or from another state, please make
sure that your representatives know that you are opposed to catch
shares. North Carolina is not the only state that will suffer
from their implementation. It has already been implemented in