By Richard Gaines
---- — More than 150 members or allies of the fishing industry governed by the Northeast Regional Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have petitioned the Senate Appropriations Committee to stop all funding for the Gloucester headquarters and to reallocate “any salvaged” money for relief of the “disaster” that has befallen the industry as officially recognized more than eight months ago.
Since the September 2012 disaster declaration, issued by then acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, repeated pleas for help made by numerous political leaders — including Gov. Deval Patrick and Congressman John Tierney — to the White House have gone for naught.
Among the signers of the petition were a number of Cape Ann fishermen including Hilary Dombrowski, Ignazio Sanfilippo, Thomas Testaverde, Stebastian Brancaleone, William Skrobacz, Mark Byard, Accursio Sanfilipo, Richard Burgess, Edward Smith and Darren Twombly.
Support for the petition, however, is spread across the nation, and includes industry representatives from Alaska, North Carolina, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Oregon, Louisiana and Pennsylvania.
Petitioners of prominence include Richie Canastra, co-owner of BASE New England, the region’s largest fish auction and Carlos Raphael, who owns the largest feet of groundfishing and scalloping boats in the region. Both are from the greater New Bedford area.
The petition drive began in February with the names sent last week to U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee.
Mikulski herself voiced the idea of closing the Northeast Regional Office last year out of frustration at the refusal of NOAA’s regional office to respond to requests and directives from the administration and Congress, and its alleged ignoring of the interests of the Chesapeake Bay area.
Mikulski said it made sense to move the Northeast regional office from Gloucester, which is housed in a new Blackburn Industrial Park building that opened in 2009 and built for NOAA at a cost of $13 million.
From those offices, NOAA regulates administers fishing in the 200 mile exclusive economic zone established by the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act that stretches from Maine to North Carolina. The region includes New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. NOAA has seven other regional offices for the South Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, the West Coast, the Northwest, the Pacific Islands and Alaska.
The petition began by noting an Associated Press story that quoted NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard as saying that “failures by fishery managers are ultimately to blame for weak stocks that haven’t rebounded.”
“The AP story went on to quote Mr. Bullard as saying, ‘We set the rules and clearly the rules have failed. There’ no other conclusion,’” the petition reads.
The petitioners went on to commend Bullard for “his honest, direct and accurate description of the current reality,” and quoted him further as saying of changes in the workplace that “a plant shuts down. A person who’s worked there for 30 years all of a sudden goes to the factory door and it’s closed. You learn a new trade and adapt ... People adapt and survive.’
“As fishermen, we are owners and employees of small businesses, and we fully understand the difficulties and pain the Mr. Bullard describes,” the petition reads. “We believe that just as there are consequences for failures in business, so, too, should there be consequences for failures in government.
The petition was sent at a time of growing frustration with NOAA’s Northeast regional office by stakeholders and the political system.
Last week, state Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a federal suit against NOAA alleging the extreme cuts in fish landings for 2013 were arbitrary and capricious, and have doomed the fishing industry gratuitously and vindictively.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-700, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.