The former front-runner to head the National Marine Fisheries Service has removed his name from consideration for the post as the appointment process drags on for a fifth month.
Arne Fuglvog of Alaska, a veteran commercial fisherman with extensive experience in quota-based fisheries management systems like the catch share plans being advanced across the country, cited the length of the process in a July 31 letter asking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take him out of the running for its NMFS job.
"Sadly, the process of considering candidates for this important position has simply taken much longer than I had anticipated and I am no longer able to remain as a candidate," Fuglvog wrote.
In June, Fuglvog's appointment as assistant administrator for fisheries appeared imminent, with only one other candidate, scientist and academic Brian Rothschild of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth known to have been interviewed for the post.
But yesterday, Fuglvog, now working in Washington as an aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told the Times by phone that he had not spoken with NOAA about the assistant administrator for fisheries position in more than a month.
"This is not about the job itself, it is just a timing issue," Fuglvog said. "I have a job to do and I want to do it to the best of my ability. It can be a distraction."
Fuglvog's letter is dated one day after the Times reported that the Obama administration had reopened the search for candidates to serve as the country's top fisheries manager.
The assistant administrator for fisheries is the highest government position in the country focused solely on fishing, reporting to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke.
Fuglvog, 45, is a former fishing boat captain and owner who served on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council from 2003 to 2006.
During that period, the North Pacific Council was in the middle of transforming Alaska's crab fishery into a catch share quota system, known as the crab "rationalization," now cited as an effective example of sustainable fishery management by catch share advocates.
To others, the changes to Alaska's crab fishery have not been as popular, resulting, they say, in shrinking the fleet, favoring processors and leaving many crew members of boats without jobs or equity.
Fuglvog was endorsed by fishing industry groups including the United Fishermen of Alaska and Southern Shrimp Alliance, as well as environmental groups including the Environmental Defense Fund, which has spearheaded the public relations campaign for catch shares.
Fuglvog was also endorsed by Murkowski, his boss, as well as Alaska's junior senator, Mark Begich, and senators from the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Florida and Texas.
Yesterday, representatives of Lubchenco and NOAA were customarily tight-lipped about the appointment process, which started officially with Obama's inauguration and then in earnest with Lubchenco's confirmation in March.
"The head of NOAA's Fisheries Service is an extremely important position and we are continuing to interview candidates for the position," said Monica Allen, NOAA spokeswoman by e-mail yesterday. "This appointment is one of a number of appointments at NOAA that has not yet been made yet."
The NOAA fishery service continues to operate without a permanent chief during a period of tension and fear for the Atlantic fishing industry, which has struggled under increasingly tough restrictions even as it braces for a new system.
While the search for a permanent replacement continues, acting assistant administrator James Balsiger has been in charge. It is unclear whether Balsiger is being considered for the permanent post.
New England, site of oldest and most storied fishery in the country, has been at the center of tensions between the industry and regulators and is in the middle of introducing catch shares. The New England Fishery Management Council voted in June for a sector-based catch share system that will run alongside boats operating under the traditional effort controls
While Fuglvog's resume is dominated by his 30 years in the fishing industry, Rothschild, 75, is an eminent academic.
Endorsed by Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, whose district includes New Bedford, Rothschild's qualifications are extensive and include nearly 30 years in academic science preceded by nine years in the 1970s as a senior policy advisor at NOAA.
While Fuglvog was garnering recommendations from the Pacific Northwest and Gulf Coast, Rothschild has been championed equally on the East Coast.
Rothschild said yesterday he has not had any recent contact with anyone in NOAA about the assistant administrator position.
Patrick Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.