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November 5, 2012

Presidential race radar never hit fishing crises

The crisis threatening the survival of Gloucester and other East Coast fishing communities — which have declined into officially declared disaster during the last four years — has not registered a blip during the 2012 national election campaign, even as voters go to the polls today.

Neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama has paid a whit’s attention to an $331 million industry, though Obama has given silent support to his team at NOAA Fisheries, headed by Jane Lubchenco, over calls for her ouster from several fedral lawmakers.

Here in Massachusetts, the epicenter of the conflict where the government has centered its regional offices and bipartisan political resistance is most intense, frustration is palpable.

A founder of the Northeast Seafood Coalition when he was Gloucester’s mayor in the previous decade, John Bell is not given to pessimism.

But “unfortunately,” he conceded Monday, “we haven’t seen a break in the culture of not caring about coastal communities; this has been typical over the years of many administrations.”

In close encounters with Gov. Romney, whose four years in the State House overlapped his six in City Hall, Bell said he found the future presidential nominee uninterested in fishing.

“He came down to a red tide event,” Bell recalled. “He looked at me and said I should be working on potholes, not fishing.”

And yet, President Obama, Bell also conceded, has also proved an intractable impediment to improving the lot of the small business entrepreneurs who work at great risk with small margins determined to maintain business independence.

“We have done a pretty good job in terms of proposing intelligent policy,” Bell observed. “Why we haven’t made it into the front door of the White House? I don’t know. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The disaster, acknowledged in September by the acting commerce secretary, Roberta Blank, has the contours of the malaise of the general economy, with government-sanctioned consolidation and greater efficiency of operation at the expense of jobs. The result is that port communities — from Gloucester, New Bedford, Hampton, N.H. and Pt. Judith, R.I., through Montauk, N.Y., and New Jersey all the way to North Carolina’s Outer Banks — have come to feel shackled into a system imposed by central state planners under the subtle influence of conservationists and global investors.

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