By Richard Gaines
---- — 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.
But Kerry was seeing the bright side only Thursday, conceding nothing that might be seen as hurting his president or the administration. Asked about the 10-month delay, Kerry said, “If the option was to take the declaration now or now at all, I’ll take it now.”
In the non-interactive announcement, Blank who is virtually unknown to the fishing industry, was given a paragraph of quotes to indemnify the fishermen from responsibility for causing the diminished fish stocks — though in doing so, she or the department, inadvertently begged a series of questions, starting with “what happened?” and leading to “what should be done to fix it?”
Lubchenco is very well known in the fishing ports for her carefully calculated, two-decade long masterplan to impose her polices on the seas. It began with leveraging from industrial foundations grants to finance the creation of a national network of research scientists; such men and women wrote now widely discredited claims about the ultimate harm caused by harvesting wild stocks, and the panacea of restructuring the home-owned industry to encourage global investment.
Lubchenco’s history shows a passion for regulatory schemes to halt or limit fishing.
Lubchenco and colleague David Festa, vice president at Environmental Defense Fund, where she was an officer before decamping for NOAA, jointly wrote an op-ed paean to then-President George W. Bush for using what legal scholars consider doubtful authority to rope off gigantic marine protected areas around the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, even though the subsistence fishing people were furious to have lost their way of life and insulted to be reduced in practice to colonial subjects. In doing so, Lubchenco and Festa ignored Bush as “The Blue President.”
Today, Lubchenco has become so well known to her subjects in New England’s fishing ports that many fishermen and at least three members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation — Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank and U.S. Sen Scott Brown — have called for the president to fire here.
The press release Thursday declaring that her stewardship had yielded a disaster allowed Lubchenco two sentences in quotes, too.
In the first, she said “fishing is the lifeblood of many coastal communities.”
In the second, she was quoted as saying that “working together” was the only route to problem solving.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.