By Richard Gaines
---- — Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, has declined to explain why the White House turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Gov. Deval Patrick for relief from what Patrick told her were “impending drastic cuts” in landings allowed the groundfishing fleet concentrated in his state.
Three days after Patrick spoke with Jarrett on behalf of fishermen and lawmakers, a suite of unprecedented reductions in landing limits were announced and put in place by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration, with allowable landings in Gulf of Maine cod slashed 78 percent, and many landings in many other stocks were reduced by more than 50 percent for the new fishing year that began May 1.
Gulf of Maine cod is the essential wild resource of the inshore fleet that is centered in Gloucester, but also spread along the coasts of New England, from Maine to Cape Cod. The cuts that took effect May 1 for the 2013 fishing year are also due to extend through April 2015.
The cuts threaten the very survival of the fleet, which has fished within established limits for a number of years, according to the acting Commerce Secretary in her November 2012 letter to Patrick that granted his request — 11 months after it was submitted – to recognize that the groundfishing industry had slid into a condition of “economic disaster.”
But The White House never got involved publicly in the ill-fated effort during the lame-duck session of Congress last year to appropriate $150 million in disaster relief for the groundfishing ports of the Northeast, Maine to New York, and there remains no aid to address the declared “disaster” in President Obama’s Commerce budget for fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1.
In his only public comment about NOAA during the first term was to opine that he thought NOAA would fit better in the Interior Department than Commerce. He did not follow up.
In a letter made public by his office, Patrick said he called Jarrett on April 25 “about the pressing needs of our fishing industry” and the outstanding request with the department for an interim measure to lessen the impact of final 2013 groundfishing fishing regulations.
In his April 26 letter to Attorney General Martha Coakley, Patrick also wrote that he asked Jarrett to “do everything it can to ensure that all federal resources are made available to our fishing community.”
This plea appears to have been separate from another request for the White House to overrule a legal brief sent by Lois Schiffer, NOAA’s general counsel, to NOAA Northeast Regional Administrator John Bullard advising him that the Magnuson-Stevens Act, precluded extending 2012’s interim limits, which held the Golf of Maine cod cuts to 22 percent. Schiffer’s legal brief was deemed protected by “attorney-client privilege” and kept confidential.
Members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation including then-Sen. John Kerry and Congressman John Tierney had written to Bullard arguing that the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act, which they all helped draft, did not preclude NOAA from granting the relief sought by Patrick in his call to Jarrett.
The New England Fishery Management Council, a policy advisory arm of NOAA, and the Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region’s largest industry group, also wrote to Bullard that he did have the authority to grant the “interim” relief — less extreme cuts in the landings of Gulf of Maine cod that would reduce “rather” than “end” overfishing.
But Patrick’s pleas to Jarrett as the industry, seeing itself in a death spiral, held its breath last month were for naught. Bullard, from NOAA’s regional headquarters in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park, followed through as he promised and imposed the extreme cutbacks in landings, saying that even if he were not constrained by Schiffer’s unreleased legal memo, he would have done so anyway out of a sense of responsible stewardship.
A series of invitations from the Times asking Jarrett to explain the White House’s inaction in the face of Gov. Patrick’s call to her were ignored. Emails were sent on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week and were unanswered.
Attorney General Coakley had written to Patrick urging him to take the perilous position of the industry to the White House. Patrick, a friend of President Obama since their days together at Harvard Law School, hosted a small dinner party for the Obamas, Jarrett and others during the President’s 2011 summer vaction on Martha’s Vineyard.
The president, however, has said next to nothing about the crisis in the Northeast groundfishery, aside from appointing Jane Lubchenco to head NOAA in 2009.
Just before her nomination in 2008, Lubchenco, then the vice chairwoman of the board of the Environmental Defense Fund, co-authored a policy paper for Obama that urged him to convert the nation’s fisheries into industry models akin to commodity markets, open to outside investors.
Jarrett served as chairwoman of the Obama transition team that selected Lubchenco to head NOAA.