The idea of Catch Shares might make sense to an academic economist; but it does not necessarily make conservation sense. The fear for many in the fishing industry is that the push for this “asset commoditization” is nothing more than a strategy to clear off the outer continental shelf, get rid of small independent fishermen, plant cod farms between the oil rigs, and wrap up our fishing “catch shares” into some new exotic financial instrument.
Sounds Wild, Outlandish, And Unreasonable? If you listen to the oil company ads, part of their public relations campaign is in the form of beginning to introduce the idea of getting valuable antibiotic and cancer curing drugs from the sea. What they're talking about (biotechnology is the code name for this) are oil rig platforms as artificial reefs growing various crustacean species, which suddenly have been discovered to contain miracle drugs, ---now that’s wild, outlandish, and unreasonable. Why existing artificial reefs, piers, and countless other underwater structures are not already yielding these phenomenal organisms, remains a mystery.
If you’re not paying attention, they’ll slip this stuff right passed you, as they’ve done so often in the past, playing on the apathy/ignorance of the energy consuming public. There are a lot of very clever, well paid, young marketing minds at work here.
Oil companies are gradually conditioning the snoozing general public to the inevitability of living with oil rigs up and down the east and west, and Gulf coasts, beginning with the mid-Atlantic area, specifically a tract of bottom off the coast of Virginia. Google National Ocean Industries Association, www.NOIA.org to read press releases regarding the intentions of the oil industry. Read up on the “Five Year Plan for the Outer Continental Shelf”. Try also www.api.org, exploration/ production see the plans for offshore of Virginia (prime Squid grounds), ---and beyond.
We couldn’t make this stuff up; it takes wacky, corporate, nothing-matters-but-the-bottom-line, business-is a-free-for-all kind of thinking, in order to spawn ideas like selling oil rigs by virtue of a medicinal panacea obtained from the barnacles that cling to the platform legs. I found this information quite accidently when researching the work of one of the scientists on the "independent" review board (peer review of the New England Fisheries Management Council, Scientific and Statistical Committee—largely fish stock assessment data). He not only sits on the SSC independent peer review board’s Center for Independent Experts Steering Committee; but he coincidently also does research for the Coastal Marine Institute part of the University of California, Santa Barbara http://www.coastalresearchcenter.ucsb.edu/cmi/Main.html, which shares funding and research information with the Minerals Management Service, a division of the Dept of Interior, (the mineral they manage is ---OIL).
Their magazine (from the Coastal Marine Institute’s website above, go to In the News, then “Harvesting the Deep: etc” and you’ll be in the mag.) "Ocean Science" Jan, Feb, Mar, of 2008, vol. 5, issue #1, contains articles like "Deep Sea Cornucopia: Unwrapping the Oceans’ Potential", "Shell [Oil Co.] and NOAA Pool Resources in the Gulf". In the article “Harvesting the Deep”, they write "...Marine biotechnology is the harvesting of living marine organisms for research and industrial use. Many of these species contain compounds with the potential for pharmaceutical applications such as new medicines for antibiotics or the treatment of cancer." Further down the column they conclude, “The MMS Scientists have explored the use of oil and gas production platform habitats as an alternative to disturbing the natural reefs. If these platforms can function as a harvestable source for the bioproducts, then fewer organisms will need to be obtained from their natural environment”.
So here’s the pitch: if you don't want to get cancer or run out of antibiotics for the swine flu, you'll let us do exactly what we want with your outer continental shelf.
The best is a variation on this theme which is explained in an article in the same issue called: the "Rigs-to-Reefs: Program Creates New Habitats for Underwater Species”, ---this is some very cute marketing: “Rigs-to-Reefs”.
In other words they’re claiming, to get these life saving organisms we won't have to destroy the natural habitat by scraping them off the bottom of the seabed (the way the fishermen do when harvesting fish, scallops and clams), we will now scrape them off the oil rig legs which we will call reefs, ---much better. Maybe they would have us believe that only oil rig leg crustacea contain these beneficial “biotechnologies”; that these new mysterious organisms somehow thrive on the toxic waste effluent of the rigs, which continues to be emitted long after the rigs have become “dormant” or abandoned. In this way the environment will remain pristine; just deviated oil drilling platforms, as far as the eye can see, yielding life saving drugs, with no adverse effects on the ocean ---“not disturbing the natural reefs”.
On the TV the Discovery Channel had "Commercial Fishing" on their “Modern Marvels” series. Of course it was mostly about how devastated our New England fishery was, and the solution they advocated was the “modern marvel” of cod farms. Cod farms are cages sunk in 100' of water packed with cod swimming in circles, eating pellets from an automated buoy, and with “some disease and pollution”, but that "was being worked on and will be solved someday very soon".
The ITQ's or Catch Shares are a tool that will ultimately lead to the above described oil rig and industrial fish farm scenarios. If the New England fishing fleet is reduced any more, the already stressed small boat shore side support facilities will go, and then consequently the small boat fleet will follow. The main source of fish protein will be either from a few self contained factory catcher/processor ships like those in the Pollack fishery, or an ecologically negative and inferior quality aquaculture product, or worse, unregulated and uninspected imported farm-raised fish (which we actually already have, Vietnamese “pangasius”, $1bn/year, often labeled white catfish or gray sole).
The ultimate result of Catch Shares will be to kill everything we know as fishing, and the consequence of that will be to lose a very vital and healthy source of food, coastal fishing communities, and thousands of jobs. The independent local fisherman is on the endangered species list.