By Richard Gaines
November 15, 2009 10:37 pm
Since at least the 1990s, EDF has been pushing globally to have commonly owned ocean fish stocks converted into catch quotas that could be assigned as rights, creating tradeable market products that attract capital investment. New England has become the primary battleground.
In a paper an EDF official described as a grant proposal not meant for public distribution, the New York-based nonprofit environmental giant indicated four years ago that the appointment of "ocean program senior staff" member Sally McGee to the council in 2003 would allow EDF to "work the regulatory process from the inside."
Matched to McGee's strategic activities at the council and grassroots level, the paper suggested, were the continuing activities of David Festa, the oceans program administrator and a former policy director in the Commerce Department in the Clinton administration, at the pinnacle of power in Washington, the EDF document stated.
Festa, now an EDF vice president on the West Coast, would "bring pressure to bear in Washington" in order to create "top down" support for "our initiatives," EDF said in the paper, written in April 2005.
Festa is a longtime close associate of Jane Lubchenco, the catch share-promoting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who had been the vice chairman of EDF and an academic scientist when President Obama chose her as national steward of oceans and atmosphere.
Festa and Lubchenco co-taught a class at Oregon State University and co-bylined an op-ed piece suggesting President George W. Bush was an environmentalist after he used a disputed executive power to declare a vast marine protected zone in the Pacific. The 2005 grant proposal extols marine protected areas.
Lubchenco's first public policy initiative was to challenge the New England council to approve without delay a long-debated catch share program for the region's groundfishery.
The council complied in June. But at its September meeting, the council implicitly agreed it made mistakes by moving so quickly — it initiated revisions to the design of the bitterly debated transformation of the fishery, now largely stabilized and moving toward the sustainability mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Council meeting in R.I.
Finalizing these modifications — further limits to the fishing opportunities for those who have eschewed the catch share program — is a major item on the agenda for the council meeting that begins tomorrow in Newport, R.I.
The three-day meeting comes with EDF and the Obama administration's faith in catch shares under attack not only by fishing interests but also by Congressman Barney Frank, who since the death of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, has become the lead critic of the regional fishing policies, and even the Pew Environment Group.
Pew held two national teleconferences earlier this month to urge the administration to go slow on catch shares, and Frank recently released a letter to Lubchenco underscoring the potential for social destabilization resulting from catch shares' power to concentrate ownership of fishing capacity via ruthless market forces.
Since Lubchenco took office, a number of positions on councils for other regions' fisheries were filled with EDF and catch share partisans. McGee's initial appointment pre-dates Lubchenco's NOAA leadership, but McGee was reappointed last summer to a third council term.
Meanwhile, Festa — whose EDF salary was more than $300,000 in 2007 — last spring cited the windfall profit potential in the early acquisition of catch shares during an investors' conference at the Milken Institute on the West Coast.
Writing to the Sapling Foundation in 2008 about a 2003 grant, Festa said, "EDF's Oceans Program has turned this investment into what we now call the 'Big Bet' a campaign to convert the majority of US, Canadian and Latin American fisheries to catch shares."
With assets and liabilities of $145.7 million in 2007, the last year for which its IRS filings are available, EDF is one of the nation's largest and most influential ENGOs — for environmental non-government organizations — and has become known for its faith in the idea that market dynamics are the best tools for solving environmental problems.
"Through our tradition of working with market leaders to advance environmental progress," EDF said in its 2007 in-lieu-of-tax filing, "we achieve ambitious results by relying on rigorous science and harnessing economic engines."
EDF's sole rival among ENGOs in resources and influence is the Pew Environment Group, a division of the $5 billion Pew Charitable Trusts. Both 501(c)3s have made themselves permanent parts of the political Washington's political sinew.
EDF and Pew share a commitment to the "cap-and-trade" approach to carbon waste reduction in the continuing debate on climate control during last spring's U.S. House committee hearings and were perceived to be sharing a similar commitment to catch shares — until Pew's teleconferences in early November.
During the first teleconference, a participant, Zeke Grader, a well-known West Coast fishing industry official, cautioned against allowing "free market ideologues" — he made clear he meant EDF — to dictate fisheries policy.
Pew emphasized that it did not necessarily share the views of its panelists — Grader and others who were organized to speak about catch shares.
But Lee Crockett, director of federal fisheries policy for the Pew Environment Group, warned against a top down, one size fits all approach to catch shares. In a telephone interview, Grader said he found EDF's belief in the curative power of catch shares to be similar to a "religious" faith.
In a telephone interview, McGee asserted pride in her work; she is known around the council system to be a diligent and effective advocate. "My record speaks for itself," she said.
Julie Wormser, director of EDF's New England Oceans Program, described the grant proposal as hyperbolic, and speculated it was brought to light by unspecified anti-EDF interests long after it was forgotten by the organization.
Wormser said she was unable to determine the granting body to which the proposal was addressed. But the proposal clearly described catch shares as the goal.
"EDF seeks to put in place a management system that couples strong regulatory action with market forces to create sustainable fisheries," the EDF paper states.
"This is a gotcha," Wormser said, lauding McGee's record on the council.
No 'sleeper cell'
"Of course we are an advocacy group," Wormser said. "She's not a sleeper cell. Clearly, anti-EDF sentiment has been worked up. We are doing nothing that is anything that is not above board."
A grassroots federal agency whose members are appointed by the Secretary of Commerce based on nominations from governors — and nominations often subject to fierce lobbying — the fishery councils, one for each of the eight fishery regions, legislate under the authority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
According to the EDF Web site, McGee, a Mystic, Conn., resident who did undergraduate work at Smith College and got a master's degree in marine affairs at University of Rhode Island, "builds coalitions with the commercial and recreational fishing industries, federal, state and local natural resource agencies, and other non-governmental organizations in support of sustainable marine fisheries that align conservation with the business of fishing."
She has been a staffer on the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, and holds a Coast Guard merchant mariner's license to operate vessels of up to 100 tons.
The New England Council, based in Newburyport, has been working for more than two years to transition the groundfishery out of the effort control system to a system based on the harvesting cooperatives assigned a proportion of the allowable catch.
By the time Lubchenco, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate last April to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for President Obama, the groundwork for catch shares had been well laid, and the result was all but a fait accompli.
Lubchenco is also expected soon to release a draft policy paper on catch shares. She previously helped write a transition paper on catch shares for EDF in which the scientists held catch shares essential to end a level of overfishing so severe that it could, by 2048, leave the oceans the province of "jellyfish." The paper has been widely disputed by other scientists.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now read the reaction to the article:
"However, readers of the Gloucester Daily Times likely don’t know this. Because instead of providing balanced, objective information about the pros and cons of the current days-at-sea system versus other systems, reporter Richard Gaines has focused his coverage almost entirely upon criticisms of this management tool and given voice almost exclusively to those opposed to it. Coverage of those speaking in favor of the program and its potential benefits has been heavily loaded with biased language that questions the validity of the science, the organizations and the credentials of the experts delivering this point of view.
Sadly, the ones who lose most here are his readers—especially those who have a stake in the health of the fishing industry. We hope those who are interested in learning more about the pros and cons of catch shares and other fishery management practices will contact us, contact the Fishery Management Council, or contact fishermen's groups that have been advocating for a form of catch shares called "sectors" for years.
Change is difficult, and can cause undue stress when it’s not accompanied by an open and thorough exchange of information. Those affected by the changes in New England fisheries need and deserve to have the full story of the changes that are occurring—and they're not getting it in the Gloucester Daily Times."
Comments from commercial fishing families below:
Dear Ms. Regas,
In response to your indication that Richard Gaines is not reporting the full truth on Catch Shares, I must tell you I am absolutely in favor of Richard. I am one of the few women who harvest fish for a living, and with the half truths that are being presented to the public about catch shares is shameful. Your organization has done much to destroy fishermen and the communities that are supported by them. Catch shares consolidate fleets, the privatize the fisheries, they overcapitalize and they destroy lives. If they are so great, why is the EU abandoning their catch shares program after 25 years. Look what catch shares have done to the crab fishermen. About 266 boats were in business before rationing the fishery, now there about 80. Tell me how that helps our economy, ends what you call overfishing, and who profits from it. Big business that's who. Why should we pay to go to work, when I know for a fact there are more than enough fish to catch in our oceans.Why should we be regulated to death, only to let foreign nations catch our fish over the Hague Line, only to sell it back to our country. Does that make any sense to you? The amount of fish I throw over on a daily basis is sinful. Your organization does nothing but promote for big corporations to come in and take over our oceans, and to tell the American People that these big corps. will not take advantage and collapse every fishery they can get their hands on is deplorable. I see right through the game, even if most of America believes this nonsense called catch shares, you people know exactly what you are doing.
The facts speak for themselves.
> My husband and I have been commercial fishing on the east coast of the US
> for 20 years. We work from our 41 foot boat. Recently, because of the
> catch share craze that has caught fire with NOAA/NMFs, we are out of a
> job. The scallop resource presently is at the second highest level since
> record keeping began. Scallops are not over fished, nor have they been
> recently. In fact, some closed area scallops are dying of old age.
> Amendment 11, to the general category scallop fleet has cut permits down
> in half. Most of the boats left won't have enough quota to stay in
> Recently, a representative from UFA, Joe Childers, came to the east coast
> hosting panel discussions for Environmental Defense Fund. These pro catch
> share "infomercials" did not present a fair debate over ITQ's and was an
> insult to our intelligence. The fact that EDF wants to make our east coast
> fisheries Wall Street's newest commodity speaks for itself. Is there a
> connection between UFA and EDF?
> Fish, fishing techniques and fishing communities are a diverse bunch. For
> Mr. Childers, to travel this distance to promote the industrialization of
> our east coast fisheries is an abomination. Times are tough; we fishermen
> here have been sacrificing for 15 years with draconian regulations. There
> are few of us left, the stocks are rebounding nicely. I guess, what I'm
> getting out is how can UFA have a clue about what is best for our us?
> Mr. Childers, presence here was like rubbing salt in our wounds. One of
> the fishing families affected by this "presentation" was unable to attend,
> but asked someone to please tell this panel, "stay the @#$% out of our
> business!" Perhaps, you are expanding your territory?
> We are outraged and would appreciate a formal apology. We are all too
> familiar with the consequences of ITQ's. I've heard it described as either
> like diamonds or herpes-both last forever. For a member of UFA to
> participate in an unfair forum is extremely disturbing. There are many
> lives at stake in this unnecessary consolidation of our New England
> fisheries! Mr. Childers, position could easily have destroyed my son's
> future in the fishing industry here. This is a threat we do not take
> Mary Beth de Poutiloff
Your answer to Mrs Odlin is quite interesting. You speak of bridging
interest between fishermen and conservationists. Well when are the
conservationists going to start listening to the fishermen. If you truly
desirer this then I suggest you open your ears and eyes. When has this
ever been done. Although I'm sure you scientific folks look at fishermen
as money groveling people looking for the last fish to kill you seem to
forget who is and has been doing the conservation over the past decades.
Although we are not scientists with PHD's we are graduates of the most
important school that you folks seem to conveniently forget. WE are
students every day we work. What we see can't be learned from a book.
Start listening to the masses. Do you really believe that people should
be run out of business at a time when fish stocks are climbing and our
nation is facing double digit unemployment. I have seen my earnings
stripped to the bone beacuse of foolish regulations that promote the
senseless discarding of a god given resource. I ask what has your salary
done in the past ten years? We are food producers and what you promote
will turn this country into a nation dependant on foreign interest for
our seafood. We currently import 85% of out seafood as it is. This is
not beacuse of a lack of abundance but beacuse of the foolish
regulations you and your kind promote.This industry did just fine before
you and your cronies decided to dismantle our business and way of life.
We don't want you, we don't need you and the sooner you realize this the
better off we will all be. Your cherade is slowly being exposed and what
you truly seek out of this is becoming clearer all the time. Money money
money, follow the money and the real truth will be exposed. Always
remember, lies and deceit will always be exposed at some point and for
this reason we will stand proud and continue our fight for what is just
and right however long it takes. Your day of reckoning is coming.
Capt. Joel Hovanesian
F/V Excalibur, Pt Judith RI