NEW BEDFORD — The Northeast Fisheries Summit drew almost 300 people to this city yesterday, drawing a veritable "Who's Who" of the fishing industry.
And the vast majority of them gave the new NOAA fisheries director an earful about what they view as the coming crisis in the Northeast fishing industry.
Eric Schwaab, just three weeks into his job as national assistant administrator for fisheries at the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, sat in the front row of the Whaling Museum's packed auditorium and heard one speaker after another assail his agency for its policies, its attitude, and its embattled law enforcement agency.
Representatives of all kinds of players in the fishing industry were encouraged to put their cards on the table, and they did, in 10-minute presentations that were sometimes angry, sometimes emotional.
It was an outpouring of frustration at a federal agency that many believe is trying to put them out of business when it isn't treating them like children or criminals.
The summit, organized by the University of Massachusetts and the mayor's office, followed on the heels of a Capitol Hill "United We Fish" protest in late February, an inspector general's report blasting fisheries law enforcement, and sworn congressional hearings last week in Gloucester and Washington, when word surfaced that, among other things, Dale Jones, NOAA's top law enforcement official, shredded documents while under investigation.
State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, drew applause when she announced, "I want to see the day when the agency respects the fishing industry."
Congressman Barney Frank, D-Newton, criticized NOAA and the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which he and many others believe needs amendment for being too rigid — and which he and a growing number of federal lawmakers are pushing to reform.
"The problem is that the basic law is wrong," he said.