The Environmental Defense Fund's president has declined an invitation by a Senate subcommittee to testify in Boston Monday about the catch share fishery management system that EDF has helped push to the level of national policy — with an angry backlash from the fishing industry and Congress.
EDF President Fred Krupp last week turned down the written invitation to testify at 10 a.m. Monday in Fanueil Hall before Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security.
According to subcommittee staff, Krupp gave no reason for his decision, and declined to designate a substitute from the $172 million nonprofit that prides itself on its alliances with Wall Street, corporate America and national politicians.
EDF gathered tens of millions of dollars in grant funding to promote catch shares and campaigned relentlessly on behalf of the fisheries management regimen which involves transforming common wild resources into tradeable, allocated shares.
It hit the jackpot when President Obama named Jane Lubchenco, then EDF's vice chairwoman, to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and, after not mentioning catch shares at her confirmation hearing, declared it to be her top priority, nudging the New England Fishery Management Council to approve that format for the groundfishery based in Gloucester and New Bedford.
Last week, as the Times previously reported, Lubchenco also declined an invitation to testify before the subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. She designated Eric Schwaab, whom she named to head the National Marine Fisheries Service in January 2010, to testify in her stead.
Lubchenco gave no reason for her decision for bypassing the hearing, which will feature testimony from Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser. Zinser will be matched with Schwaab in the first panel, and representatives of the Gloucester and New Bedford fishing industry in the second panel.
Also testifying is attorney Stephen Ouellette, who documented the range of abuses by NOAA enforcement in a letter to Congress 10 years ago that was largely ignored, until recognized by Zinser in one of his reports that documented how federal fisheries law enforcers and attorneys had settled scores and debilitated the fleet, especially those boats based in Gloucester.
The hearing in Fanueil Hall will be chaired by Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Delaware. Sen. Scott Brown is the ranking Republican on the panel.
Carper's office said the idea to invite Krupp came from Brown's office.
"The subcommittee invited the Environmental Defense Fund to provide balance to the panel and get their perspective on why they believe such strict enforcement of fishing rules are necessary, and to better understand the complex and burdensome government regulations — including but not necessarily limited to catch shares, that have hurt the fishing industry," Brown's spokesman Colin Reed told the Times through an e-mail Monday.
Lubchenco and Zinser were issued their invitations on the same day that she came to Gloucester to apologize — publicly and jointly via teleconference with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke — to 11 individuals and businesses hit by NOAA's law enforcement excesses. The agency returned $649,527 in fines improperly taken, according to the findings of a special investigative judicial master, the retired U.S. District Judge Charles B. Swartwood III.
Swartwood went back to work reviewing another set of cases of complaints.
Based on testimony by Zinser in March 2010 during joint appearances with Lubchenco before multiple House subcommittees of document shredding during the investigation and misuse of the Asset Forfeiture Fund of fines, Dale J. Jones Jr., the longtime director of law enforcement, was reassigned as a fisheries analyst but kept his salary above $150,000. Agents and lawyers in the Northeast Division office in Gloucester were also reassigned.
Locke, who becomes ambassador to China after the Senate confirms him, and Lubchenco attributed the failings to a lack of supervision and training, but the attorney for the National Weather Services Employees Association disagreed, insisting that his members — agents and attorneys — were supervised and directed to conduct the law enforcement operations against the industry.
With Lubchenco installed at the head of NOAA, EDF is widely seen by industry leaders and its political allies as unduly influencing policy. When mainstream commercial and recreational fishermen massed in Washington, D.C. in February 2010 to protest, EDF flew a small number of fishermen allied with it in the Gulf of Mexico to counter-lobby Congress and argue that many fishermen support the system.
But on a 251-151 vote, the U.S. House in February chose to bar new catch share rollouts during the current fiscal cycle, which runs through Sept. 30.
The Senate signed on to a slightly modified version, but Lubchenco has tapped more grant funding to maintain the pace of research and development of new catch share programs.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.