By Richard Gaines
---- — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren Friday declined to accept an offer from her mentor, retired Congressman Barney Frank, to accompany her to the White House to appeal for relief from an expanding crisis and recognized economic disaster across the Northeast groundfishery.
Warren sought to bond with fishermen in Gloucester and New Bedford in meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, describing the industry as in “59th minute of its 11th hour” while facing enormous catch limit cuts and added federal operational charges on top of a systemic disaster that has coincided with the choice of Jane Lubchenco, President Obama’s head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to transform fishery management and admittedly consolidate New England’s fleets.
Frank, through a phone interview with the Times, offered Thursday to go with Warren to the White House to seek the president’s support for the industry and an executive order of other action to block the dire cuts and virtual industry shutdown.
Warren’s office released a statement to the Times Friday afternoon that reviewed her visits with fishermen, but largely ignored the offer by Frank, who described Lubchenco as dishonest, with a anti-fishing agenda.
“Senator Warren appreciated the opportunity to meet with fishermen, family members, local small business owners, and advocates earlier this week in Gloucester and New Bedford to talk about the future of the New England fishing industry,” said Bruno Freitas, a senior advisor to Warren who, for many years, served as Frank’s fisheries advisor. “It’s clear that the rules that are in place are not working for fishermen or their families.
”Senator Warren will use the tools she has available to provide them the help they need,” Freitas’ statement continued. “She has worked closely with Congressman Frank on this and other issues, and she will continue developing a strategy to most effectively assist Massachusetts fishermen.”
In a telephone interview Thursday, Frank said he believed that the Senate has “leverage” now that the president is preparing to nominate a new commerce secretary and NOAA administrator. Lubchenco is leaving government for academia next Thursday.
The officially declared socio-economic disaster in the groundfishery — involving 805 boats in ports from Long Island, New York to Maine with the centers of activity in Gloucester and New Bedford where 165 boats are home ported and hundreds of others deliver landings — took a more perilous turn in January when NOAA rejected a plea by the congressional delegation, the New England Fishery Management Council and the Northeast Seafood Coalition for a second year of “interim” emergency rules that would dramatically enlarge the size of the catch in Gulf of Maine cod, the lifeblood of the inshore fleet.
NOAA’s Regional Administrator John Bullard announced the decision, proclaiming the Magnuson-Stevens Act renders him powerless to authorize a second year of “interim” emergency rules, and citing advice by NOAA’s general counsel, Lois Schiffer.
Bullard is not an attorney, but his spokeswoman Maggie Mooney-Seus said there was no legal brief from Schiffer to Bullard, Bullard explained NOAA’s position in a letter to the council, an arm of the agency that is made up of state officials, industry representatives and at large members, all appointed by the Secretary of Commerce from lists of nominees submitted by the governors of the ocean states.
Bullard said he is bound by what the law says — not what it doesn’t say. The advocates of the second year of interim action, which would hold inshore cod landings at the 2012 level rather than cut landings by 77 percent, argued that the relevant sections of the Magnuson Act “does not include any prohibition on implementing a second such action (interim rule) after the first one expires” so long as the second interim rule reduces overfishing in the stock in question.
Schiffer and Bullard were staking out a disputed legal opinion against the advice of writers of the law, a federal body created by Magnuson to serve as interpreter of NOAA science and the region’s largest industry group. Their interpretation of Magnuson, projected to produce a potential death knell to the groundfishing industry, was issued less than three months after the U.S, first Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston affirmed a lower court ruling that granted NOAA enormous deference in interpreting congressional intent.
The vehicle for the ruling was a case brought for the industry by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and — backed by Frank and Congressman John Tierney. The legal action challenged the legality of the catch share commodity system imposed by NOAA without putting the radical transformation to an industry referendum as the re-authorization of Magnuson seemed to require, in an amendment Frank and Tierney co-sponsored.
Elected to the Senate last November with support from President Obama and Frank, Warren had been on the faculty of Harvard Law School. She has described herself as a student of Frank’s vast experience in national politics and acumen gained in 32 years in Congress with New Bedford as the largest city in his district. Frank employed Warren to help draft the landmark banking reform act which included the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.
In his last two terms before retiring at the end of the 112th Congress in January, Frank worked with Warren, then a member of the faculty of Harvard Law School, during the drafting of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
He told the Times Thursday that he would “absolutely” join Warren, now the senior senator from Massachusetts in a visit to the White House to seek President Obama’s support for relief for the Northeast groundfishery.
The fishery was declared a disaster by the acting Commerce Secretary in September, but the president has not lent his support for any disaster relief or for an aid appropriation of some $150 million that was approved by the Senate but killed in the Republican-led House during the lame duck session that ended Jan. 3.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.