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September 17, 2012

Kerry proves lone fed voice on disaster call

The U.S. Commerce Department’s assertion is correct that “diminished fish stocks” played a role in the descent of the Northeast Groundfishery into a disaster under the watch of President Obama’s nominee, Jane Lubchenco, as chief administrator over oceans and atmosphere, most believe.

Even more certain is that the causes of the disaster are murkier and far more complex than that.

But in announcing the decision Thursday to grant Gov. Deval Patrick and his colleagues governing New York and the other four New England fishing states the disaster finding that had been the object of increasingly desperate pleas dating back to last Nov. 15, the Commerce Department made sure questions could not be asked — not of Roberta Blank, the acting secretary; and not of Lubchenco.

To preclude questions, Commerce — in which Lubchenco’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a $5 billion subdivision, containing the $1 billion budgeted National Marine Fisheries Service — chose to issue the belated disaster declaration by press release.

In the absence of an actual administration official to answer questions — and perhaps help make a teaching moment of insight about the facts of ocean science and fisheries policy, there was only Sen. John Kerry, a veteran of numerous informal diplomatic missions to world trouble spots for Obama who, in this case, served as a domestic diplomat previewing the announcement by embargoed teleconference.

As implicit leader of the New England delegation, Kerry helped extract the disaster declaration — something six governors and a folio of research had been unable to do. But Kerry was unwilling to speak a discouraging word in an informal 15-minute hookup at 10 a.m. Thursday, when he asked the half dozen reporters on the line to embargo the disaster declaration news until 11, when the pronouncement from Blank and Lubchenco was set for release.

Kerry deflected questions that might have reminded readers that NOAA could as easily be damned as praised for withholding the disaster declaration or admission until the 11th hour of the 112th Congress, and that his effort to lasso $100 million was made infinitely more challenging.

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