Eric C. Schwaab, second in charge at Maryland's state Department of Natural Resources, was named yesterday to take the reins of the troubled and challenged $1 billion National Marine Fisheries Service.
The appointment by NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco — rumored for weeks — fills a position that had been vacant for more than a year. The vacuum was considered by the U.S. Commerce Department Inspector General last month to have been a contributing factor in allowing the federal fisheries police to operate largely without oversight and drift into a variety of improper actions against the fishing industry.
The NMFS administrator is responsible for federal fisheries law enforcement. The epicenter of the problem was confirmed to be the office of agents in Gloucester, who hold authority for law enforcement throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions.
"Eric is a creative and proven manager, consensus builder and leader," Lubchenco said in a e-mailed statement.
"He has developed and implemented solutions to address challenges in regional habitat restoration, including Chesapeake Bay restoration issues, fish and wildlife conservation, public lands management, natural resources law enforcement, public agency administration, strategic planning and leadership development.
Federal offices were closed yesterday because of the snowstorm, and Lubchenco's office was unable to provide a professional resume, a salary or job description for the 48-year-old Schwaab, who lives in Catonsville, Md.
A biographical summary released by NOAA indicates that, previous to his position with the state of Maryland, Schwaab had been resource director for the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, a private organization that represents the interests of state agencies.
Earlier, at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, "Eric served in many different capacities, including director of fisheries, forest, wildlife and heritage service, park ranger (and) environmental police officer," according to the biographic summary.
His appointment ends the year-long candidacy for the post Brian Rothschild, the Montgomery Charter Professor of Marine Sciences and Technology at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, who has been the academic and political linchpin of the volatile New England fishing industry.
Its alienation from NMFS was a central discussion point during Lubchenco's confirmation hearing questioning by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. Lubchenco, herself a celebrated academic scientist, promised to use science to bridge the chasm between regulators and the fishing industry.
Since then, with the top job at NMFS held down in an acting term by James Balsiger, pressure emanating from Gloucester pushed Lubchenco to ask the IG to look into persistent allegations of vindictive actions against fishermen and businesses.
Meanwhile, the industry chafed at NMFS policies that were aimed at eliminating what Lubchenco called a "sizable fraction of the fleet" and the pending onset of "catch shares," an engineered transformation of the industry to a regulatory system that she concedes should "consolidate" the number of small, family-owned fishing boats.
In her only known visit to Gloucester as head of NOAA, Lubchenco visited and left the regional offices without detouring to the port or City Hall. A regional fishermen's protest was held in October at the NMFS Gloucester, and a massive protest is scheduled for the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 24.
Her choice to head NMFS does not have the doctorate degrees held by either Balsiger or Rothschild. Schwaab has a master's in geography and environmental planning.
A job description provided to the Times last year lists as essential duties of the NMFS administrator to "establish national standards and operational guidelines for fisheries management programs, and promote ... recreational and commercial fishing under sound conversation and management principles."
The NMFS administrator is also required to administer "multi- disciplinary biological and socio-economic research programs" that provide the "scientific base for status of stocks, status of fisheries including both socio-economic and biological aspects, environmental assessment and ... impact statements."
Lubchenco never explained why she avoided appointing Rothschild, 75, who once had taught Balsiger in the 1970s while on the faculty of the University of Washington, and in 2003 received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Institute of Fishery Biologists.
After he made himself a candidate for the NMFS position last year, leaders of the New England fishing industry and Congressman Barney Frank advocated Rothschild's appointment.
Instead, an Alaskan former fisherman and staffer for the Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski emerged as an alternative, with the endorsement of the Environmental Defense Fund, where Lubchenco had been vice chairwoman. But Arne Fuglvog took himself out of the running when no quick decision was made between the two.
Afterward, Frank and Richie Canastra, the industry leader of New Bedford and the co-owner of the Whaling City Seafood Display Auction, marshaled industry forces behind Rothschild, but to no avail.
Rothschild helped produce video and scientific disproof of NMFS research showing a weakened scallop industry in the 1990s. With the better science, the industry was saved from what would have been unnecessary conservation controls.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or via e-mail at email@example.com.