By Richard Gaines
---- — Recently retired Congressman Barney Frank said Thursday he would “absolutely” be willing to go to the White House as an advisor to and friend of Sen. Elizabeth Warren to seek President Obama’s support for executive orders and congressional appropriations to relieve the Northeast groundfishery disaster.
On top of the disaster declared by the federal government last fall, draconian cuts in catch limits scheduled to take effect on May 1, the start of the 2013 fishing year, and the shifting of operating costs for government monitors on the boats to fishermen is being widely seen as signaling the collapse of the groundfishing industry in the co-capital ports of Gloucester and New Bedford.
Warren acknowledged that in meetings in Gloucester Tuesday and New Bedford Wednesday. In Gloucester, she described the crisis as entering the “59th minute of the 11th hour,” while, in New Bedford, she said the forces oppressing the industry reminded her of Wall Street’s excesses during the great decline of the U.S. and global economy beginning with the popping of the housing bubble in 2007 and 2008.
Frank, who served as a mentor to Warren, a Harvard Law School professor, during the drafting of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which partially reformed the banking system in 2010, said Thursday that the U.S. Senate now holds leverage over the president as he prepares to refill two top positions in the Commerce Department — those of Secretary and NOAA administrator.
There has been no confirmed commerce secretary in nearly a year, and as of next Thursday, with the departure of Lubchenco leaves the top NOAA post open as well.
Frank, a staunch critic of Lubchenco’s policies almost from the start of her NOAA reign, described her in a telephone interview as an intellectually dishonest environmental zealot and enemy of the fishing industry.
“She had an anti-fishing agenda,” said Frank, who represented New Bedford until a redistricting and his decision to retire before the 2012 election. He also said that “she lied to me (on many occasions)” and avoided appointing his choice, Brian Rothschild, to the head of the National Marine Fisheries Service because the esteemed academic scientist at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. “It was clear to me he was a great threat to her,” Frank said.
Obama has not announced his choice to take either of the two positions; both require Senate confirmation.
Frank said the Senate should make it clear to the president that “there will be no Secretary of Commerce until this thing is straightened out.”
Warren had no immediate response Thursday to Frank’s offer.
”This thing,” as Frank called it, is the officially declared socio-economic disaster in the Northeast groundfishery, which involves 805 boats in ports from New York’s Long Island to Maine, but is centered on Gloucester and New Bedford, where 165 boats are home ported and hundreds of others deliver their landings.
Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank last September declared the disaster -- 11 months after petitions and studies in support from Gov. Deval Patrick were quickly followed by parallel requests from governors of New Hampshire and Maine and later from Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.
The Republican leadership of the House refused to approve a Senate passed $150 million relief package designed to provide a lifeline for the port’s infrastructure, and boats left with the inability to land even half the total allocation of the mixed stock of groundfish due to the prohibition within the Magnuson-Stevens Act against exceeding any individual allocation.
Still, with the industry deemed a disaster, NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard, based on advice by NOAA’s General Counsel Lois Schiffer, last month proclaimed he was powerless to authorize a second year of “interim” emergency rules that would dramatically reduce cutbacks in Gulf of Maine cod, the lifeblood of the inshore fleet.
Bullard is not an attorney, but NOAA spokeswoman Maggie-Mooney Seus said there was no legal brief from Schiffer to Bullard.
But in a letter rebutting the legal theory that he could approve interim actions for a second year, Bullard said he is bound by what the law says, not what it doesn’t say. The advocates argued that nothing in the law bars a second year of interim actions.
Disputing Schiffer and Bullard — both appointees of Lubchenco — is the Massachusetts congressional delegation, the New England Fishery Management Council, an arm of NOAA with industry and state representatives that processes the science and proposes management regimens, and the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition.
The region’s largest industry group, the coalition’s legal reasoning was behind the theory that the Magnuson Act allowed NOAA to implement two consecutive years of interim actions, meaning reducing rather than ending overfishing completely.
The interim action for Gulf of Maine cod in the 2012 fishing year ending April 20, 2013 held the contraction of the allowable landings to only 22 percent. A second year would have a similar muting of the cutbacks. Bullard’s refusal to allow a second year of interim action on in shore cod has led to a 77 percent reduction in the essential wild stock of the Gloucester, New Hampshire and Maine based boats.
The cut is widely anticipated to effectively disable the fleet, triggering at least a temporary shutdown of many of the port’s fishing businesses.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.