GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 6, 2011

Calls growing for NOAA chief's ouster

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

After what he described as evasion and equivocation by Jane Lubchenco at a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing, New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang is calling on President Obama to replace the NOAA administrator.

In a prepared statement released Wednesday evening, Lang explained that Monday's testimony by Lubchenco crushed the last hopes he had for her to be able to effectively lead on fishery concerns.

Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who has made a close alliance with Lang on fisheries issues, took a different tact Thursday.

She videotaped an appeal, posted on YouTube, to the president to fix things, but instead of urging Lubchenco to go, Kirk invited her to come to Gloucester — the nation's first fishing port city — for a followup public meeting with municipal and port interests.

"Rather than calling for Dr. Lubchenco's resignation," Kirk said in an email, "I'd prefer she answer back to the community as a follow-up to the visit she made here in March 2010."

"At that time, she expressed support for our city and fishing industry," Kirk noted. "It might be time to meet again to understand ... the fleet and the jobs it represents."

On the day of Lubchenco's previous meeting here with stakeholders, a U.S. House subcommittee held a hearing at Gloucester's City Hall that helped uncover scandalous excesses in the federal fisheries law enforcement system.

In an opening statement and answers to questions at the State House Monday, Lubchenco, the former vice chairwoman of the Environmental Defense Fund board, did nothing to inspire hope from the fishing industry and its political representatives.

The New England ports have been hemorrhaging jobs along the New England coast while struggling with a catch share management system that is inducing consolidation of resources and quota within a few of the biggest and best capitalized businesses, while forcing smaller players to the sideline.

The system — crafted and pushed in large part by the Environmental Defense Fund — is based on an unregulated commodities market. Lubchenco has made the elimination of a "sizeable fraction of the fleet" an expressed goal.

Lubchenco declined Thursday to comment on Lang's call, but her press secretary Justin Kenney issued a prepared statement, saying, "We understand the serious challenges fishermen face in New England and are taking concrete steps to address these challenges."

To that end, he cited, "developing more cost-effective observer and monitoring approaches; giving fishermen access to unused quota, addressing concerns about excessive accumulation of fishing privileges, and partnering with the state to gather and analyze date to support a disaster declaration."

Lang is not the first elected official to conclude that Lubchenco is no longer salvageable as NOAA's leader. An earlier flurry of thumbs down came more than a year ago from Congressmen Barney Frank, John Tierney and Walter Jones, though Frank later retreated from that call.

After Monday's 2 1/2-hour hearing — Lubchenco left in the middle, and her office has refused to reveal what commitment she had — Frank said in a taped interview that he had backed off the demand for Lubchenco's sacking in the middle of last year because the White House had assured him it would be possible to "get things done around her."

Now, he conceded, he does not believe that's the case.

Lang, Frank and Tierney are Democrats who were ardent Obama soldiers in 2008.

Jones is a North Carolina Republican, who, along with Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, ensures a bipartisan cast in opposition to Obama policies.

Brown, who mobilized a Senate subcommittee hearing into NOAA law enforcement and spending priorities last June, described Lubchenco's performance Monday as the "political hoojie woojie," and complained that NOAA has yet to produce a ream of documents he, with Kerry's support, had asked for last June.

Brown had been trying to learn by what rationale led NOAA to issue apologies to 11 of the most egregious victims of justice miscarried and pay more than $600,000 in reparations, yet not fire or punish any of the perpetrators within the agency's police and litigation sections.

"I was extremely disappointed in the lack of clear responses (Monday) from Administrator Lubchenco, as well as the contempt she displayed in answering questions from elected officials with oversight of NOAA," Brown said in a Thursday statement to the Times about Lang's call for her ouster.

"NOAA must begin to repair its fractured relationship with Massachusetts fishermen and show its commitment to the preservation of our fishing communities," Brown added. "If Administrator Lubchenco continues to refuse to do that, then new leadership is needed at the agency."

Tierney made his opinion clear during the hearing when he said "a change in leadership" was the quickest way to change a culture hostile to the industry.

"After witnessing her performance on Monday," Lang wrote, "I have decided to add my voice to the chorus of elected officials who disapprove of her performance and call on President Obama to replace Administrator Lubchenco with an individual who will work with fishing communities around the country."

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.