By Richard Gaines
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is readying a high-profile response to a U.S. Senate coalition request for improvements and reforms to the mechanics tied to the catch share fishing regulatory system that's widely being viewed as a prime reason for a consolidation of New England's fishing fleet, and the loss of jobs and businesses within in industry.
Numerous blunt recommendations were made in a July 26 letter from the U.S. senators of four New England States.
These include reducing the cost of on-board monitors, elimination of leftover effort controls fro the past management system — such as closed areas for non-harmful gear types — better data and data management, increased attention to socio-economic implications of management policies, and access to unused quota.
The senators also expressed concerns about a permit bank system that was rolled out by NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco without any vetting or analysis at the New England Fishery Management Council; the senators also asked for input by the industry in political appointments connected to fishery management.
A reliable NOAA source told the Times Friday that "a response is likely before the Kerry hearing."
Sen. John Kerry last week announced plans for an Oct. 3 field hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee in Boston, where Lubchenco has agreed to appear and face questions. Her unavailability has led to a series of false start plans for the hearing, which Kerry promised last winter to hold in the spring or summer.
The week before the Oct. 3 hearing, the regional management council holds a four-day meeting in Danvers.
In addition to the detailed proposals for changes to the management of Amendment 16 — the framework that includes the catch share system — the eight senators pointedly asked NOAA to "involve industry in leadership selection."
That request corresponds to the pending retirement of Patricia Kurkul, the longtime regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Kurkul, whose departure by the end of the year was announced earlier this summer, has not earned the trust or confidence of the fishing industry, which on her watch, was systematically buffeted by excessive law enforcement activities that were documented by the Commerce Department inspector general.
"Leadership has been a concern to industry in New England and the future leaders of the regional office and science center will be critical elements of improving the working relationship between industry and NOAA Fisheries," wrote the eight senators — John Kerry and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snow and Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
No successor to Kurkul has been named.
Lubchenco's first act after her Senate confirmation in March 2009 was to pressure the New England council to complete and ratify the introduction of catch shares and sector business cooperatives to the New England groundfishery. The council complied that March, but did so without placing any limits or controls on the trading and accumulation of shares.
As predicted by Lubchenco, a leading advocate of catch shares, and anti-catch share analysts — including Brian Rothschild, the marine scientist at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth's School of Marine Science and Technology — the laissez faire approach has led to radical consolidation of the fleet, leading to job loss in the main ports of Gloucester, New Bedford and Pt. Judith, R.I.
The system took hold beginning in May 2010, but only now has the council turned to the problem of erecting limits and controls after the fact.
Advocates especially within the activist green groups allied with Lubchenco insist the new system is a grand success, but within the leading ports a far different opinion holds.
The dispute has been a continuing theme in the political argument between the Obama appointees at NOAA, headed by Lubchenco, and a bipartisan congressional and senatorial delegation which almost unanimously sees the transition as an unnecessary sacrifice of jobs and economic vitality.
Because of his stature in the Senate and his close relationship with President Obama, Kerry's influence is considered pivotal, so attention will be riveted on impact of his hearing he will chair in Boston on Oct. 3.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.