By default and past experience, what slim hope remains to relieve the declared federal fisheries disaster before it consumes the surviving core of the groundfishing fleet in Gloucester and other New England ports has shifted from leadership at the Commerce Department to the White House.
The industry — as its participants related in meetings in Gloucester Tuesday and New Bedford Wednesday with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren — is running out of time to get relief from 77 percent cuts in the Gulf of Maine cod limits and other tight restrictions due to take effect May 1, and carry through the 2013 and 2014 fishing years.
Down from 570 boats in 2009 to 420 in 2011, the last year for which NOAA has published data, with most fishing businesses leveraged to the hilt, the squeeze is widely projected to deliver the coup de grace here in Gloucester, though New Bedford, the co-capital of Americans’ earliest continuous way of life, may hold on longer due to the lucrative but also increasingly constricted harvesting of scallops.
The draconian cuts in landings — 77 percent of inshore cod, 61 percent of cod from Georges Bank, enormous cuts in flatfish, too, and the shift of millions of dollars for what is now pegged as fishermen’s cost of NOAA’s on-board monitors — approaches just as the leadership at Commerce is disappearing.
The last Senate-confirmed Commerce Secretary, John Bryson, resigned last summer, having passed out behind the wheel of his car after careening through the streets of suburban Los Angeles. And with Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank still running Commerce, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco departs for academia next Thursday after four tumultuous years at the agency’s helm. Her resignation email to staff on Dec. 12 stated that “our notable progress includes ... ending over-fishing, rebuilding depleted stocks and returning fishing to prosperity” — despite the fact that Blank had declared the Northeast groundfishery a certified “economic disaster” just two months earlier.