U.S. Sen John Kerry, who has grown increasingly impatient in public with NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, sent her a six page, 11-point list of his expectations for fixing the regulatory and law enforcement system in the days following a Senate Commerce Committee hearing he organized for the Massachusetts State House last October.
But most of the “proactive and tangible steps forward” outlined in Kerry’s letter to Lubchenco have been not been taken.
For example, Lubchenco has not “come to Massachusetts” at all, much less at her “earliest convenience” to meet with representatives of the industry as well as the New England Fishery Management Council to discuss “allocation reforms” and other “major regulatory issues.”
Nor has she (nor the signing authority at the Commerce Department, NOAA’s parent agency) approved the disaster declaration request that Lubchenco promised the Senate Commerce Committee to fast track. Gov. Deval Patrick and his secretary of energy and environmental affairs have maintained constant pressure and communications with NOAA in the more than eight months since the filing of socio-economic studies that have shown the industry consolidating rapidly and unable to break even in day-to-day business enterprises.
The failure either to approve, disapprove or advise modification of the filing has brought strong statements of concern from Kerry and his office about his continued confidence in Lubchenco’s performance and suitability to the post she was given by President Obama at the beginning of his term.
At a news conference last Friday, Kerry said that, without immediate approval of the disaster declaration, which would open the door to financial subsidies for fishermen caused harm by government policies, he’ll “have comment” on whether he agrees with Sen. Scott Brown that Lubchenco should be fired.
Kerry’s communications director, Jodi Seth, Tuesday issued a statement to the Times saying, that “his recent comments underscore that his patience isn’t a renewable resource ...”
Lubchenco did not respond to an invitation to comment. She and her office have repeatedly ignored press inquiries for many weeks.
Kerry’s fourth expectation was to fund “a scientific review of all New England fish stock levels by December 2013,” and the administration has approved an emergency stock assessment of Gulf of Maine cod, found in a 2011 assessment to have been rebuilding at a radically slower rate than believed in 2008. But neither Lubchenco nor any of her subordinates have discussed the full range of review discussed by the senator.
NOAA has, as Kerry requested, picked up the cost of at-sea monitoring for fiscal 2012, but so far has not indicated whether it will continue to underwrite the cost of the monitors, required for the boats operating under the catch share commodification program.
Kerry’s sixth assignment, that NOAA develop an “independent” follow up report to the Touchstone report, which documented layers of dysfunction with the NOAA led New England Fishery Management Council system, has not been carried out.
Kerry’s seventh imperative was a review of NOAA’s law enforcement policy that encourages the “overzealous enforcement and excessive fines, as well as “insuring that those responsible for the abuse of our fishermen are punished.” NOAA has not fired nor sanctioned any official implicated in the first set of cases examined by a special judicial master, which brought a cabinet-level apology and more than $600,000 in reparations.
A second report from the special master to the Secretary of Commerce was submitted in March, but has not been released.
The eighth subject, a request by Kerry that NOAA makes financial amends to two South Shore fishermen, Kevin Scola and Jim Keding, whose fishing livelihoods were interrupted by bureacuratic foul ups, remains unaddressed.
Kerry also asked for the opening of closed areas, which is under review at the New England Fishery Management Council, and also that Lubchenco lends her influence to the effort to end the 10 year rebuilding requirement for overfished stock that exists in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. A House Natural Resources Committee bill that moves toward that goal was filed last week, but Lubchenco has remained opposed to writing flexibility into the Magnuson Act.
Kerry also asked Lubchenco to provide $1 million to help study whether a form of acoustic sound waves can provide better real time data on stock size and location. The state has agreed to put $1.5 million into the program, but NOAA has not approved any funding.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, ext. 3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.