John Bryson, confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Secretary of Commerce, assumes an office burdened with a request — just short of an ultimatum — from U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who wants a declaration that the administration's fisheries policy has had a disastrous effect on Massachusetts' fleet.
A former utility executive and adviser to the global private equity firm, Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts & Co., Bryson made streamlined regulation, job creation and exports his priorities in confirmation hearing testimony.
Bryson, a Democrat, accepted an invitation from Kerry to come to Massachusetts for fact finding, but otherwise said little about the nation's fisheries, which suffer a more than $11 million trade deficit from cheap imports primarily from China, and are facing extensive fleet consolidation through an Obama administration policy that comes with the trading and accumulation of catch shares by the best capitalized players.
Jane Lubchenco, catch shares' primary champion, was vice chairwoman at EDF when Obama nominated her to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which sets fisheries policies, in the Commerce Department.
Bryson was confirmed Thursday evening on a 74-26 vote by the Senate, following the end of a Republican "hold" on the nomination. That was explained in part by Bryson's history as a co-founder in 1970 of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which led to the perception by opponents that he was a radical environmentalist.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown voted to confirm Bryson.
In debate preceding the vote, Kerry said he was certain that Bryson understood and would help solve the fisheries problems that have driven a wedge between fishermen and their regulators — and between Massachusetts' congressional delegation and the administration.
Congressman John Tierney, who, along with Congressman Barney Frank, complained that the White House did not seek input from the industry on the nomination, issued a hopeful statement.
"When it comes to helping our fishermen," said Tierney, whose district includes all of Cape Ann, "a regrettable 'culture of no' has taken hold of NOAA. With (the) confirmation of Mr. Bryson, there is an opportunity to begin to change that culture.
"Secretary Bryson must seize that opportunity," Tierney continued, "and his first order of business should be to join many of us in demanding new leadership at NOAA."
Bryson was lauded by Kerry during the Senate Commerce Committee hearings as a near ideal candidate to succeed Gary Locke, who become ambassador to China — to the widespread relief of the industry and a bipartisan coalition of elected leaders organized to resist Lubchenco's catch share management system.
Lubchenco was grilled by Kerry and Brown as well as Tierney and Frank at a field hearing of the Commerce Committee on Oct. 3 — before she walked out along with her entourage to meet with the editorial board of The Boston Globe.
Memorializing key points of dispute with Lubchenco in writing, Kerry on Wednesday — the day before Bryson was confirmed — said she should expect to receive from state officials the evidence she needs to issue "a disaster declaration later this month." Technically, the disaster declaration must come from the Secretary of Commerce.
Bryson's wife, Louise Bryson, the former board chairwoman of the Getty Trust and a West Coast media executive, was a $1,000 contributor to Kerry's 2004 Presidential campaign, records show.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.