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June 29, 2011

Three warn panel of fishery endangerment

The policy director of the Northeast's largest fishing industry group predicts unsustainable operating costs that shift from government to industry next year will force a "complex and cumbersome" groundfish management system to "collapse under its own weight" and take the fleet with it.

An attorney, whose 2001 congressional letter reported the diverse law enforcement abuses of the industry which a federal inspector general and special judicial master recently documented, sees a disconnect between government and industry which leaves regulators "indifferent to the avoidable human tragedies they create."

A leading marine scientist and longtime participant in federal fisheries management doubts that the Obama administration's leadership at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is capable of self-reformation.

Amid the television lights at a Senate subcommittee hearing a week ago that explored how NOAA is "managing funds to protect the domestic fishing industry," the ugly history of a law enforcement system that trampled rights while squirrelling away the proceeds of defective cases for illicit uses dominated center stage in Boston's Faneiul Hall.

But at the end, when it was the turn of Vito Giacalone, from the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, attorney Stephen Ouellette and Professor Brian Rothschild of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to address the senators, Tom Carper of Delaware, the chairman of the subcommittee, and Scott Brown, the ranking Republican, the event was winding down, and Carper was insisting that the last witnesses abbreviate their oral comments.

But their written testimony, about 6,000 words combined, constitutes a complex warning that all is not well, or getting well with the federal government's management of the fisheries, especially the Atlantic groundfishery harvested by boats from North Carolina to Maine, notwithstanding reassurances to the panel by Eric Schwaab.

The administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Schwaab was designated to attend the hearing by his boss, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco. She spurned the subcommittee's invitation without explanation, though Schwaab, in an interview videotaped afterward and posted on YouTube, said she had a scheduling conflict.

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