U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown have reiterated numerous past requests that the federal government take “immediate and decisive action to provide a disaster declaration for New England fishermen and fishing communities.”
The latest letter was sent Monday to Acting Commerce Secretary Roberta Blank. A copy was released to the Times Tuesday by Kerry’s communications director, Jodi Seth. Kerry has shown increasing exasperation at NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, who plays a pivotal role in fisheries decisions made at the secretarial level.
Blank had no immediate response Tuesday to emails from the Times seeking an explanation for the administration’s failure to approve or deny the original filing for a disaster declaration made last November by Gov. Deval Patrick.
Brown, along with Congressmen John Tierney, who represents Cape Ann, and Barney Frank, whose district includes New Bedford, has previously called for Lubchenco’s ouster, and Kerry hinted last Friday Kerry that he might soon be adding his voice to theirs.
Asked at a press event in Boston if he agreed with Brown that Lubchenco should be replaced, Kerry was quoted as saying, “If we don’t get a response at this point in time, I’ll have comment on that.”
“Senator Kerry has been as persistent and tenacious a hands-on advocate for the disaster declaration as Massachusetts has ever seen, and he’s obviously deeply frustrated not just that it hasn’t happened yet, but that we don’t know why despite the strong and improved case he’s made with the Governor,” Seth said Tuesday. “His recent comments underscore that his patience isn’t a renewable resource, and he’s pushing for action now.”
In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee last October, NOAA’s Lubchenco promised to put the disaster declaration filing on a fast track, after Kerry asked for action within two weeks, and in January, she wrote to Richard K. Sullivan Jr., secretary of energy and environmental affairs for the governor, assuring him that the fisheries failure filing was being evaluated and “(we) expect to have an answer soon.”
”We are extremely concerned about a recent National Marine Fisheries Service report which included troubling information regarding potential declines in groundfish stocks in both Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine,” the senators wrote Monday to Blank, who assumed the top spot in the Commerce Department in June following the resignation of Secretary John Bryson. Bryson was not charged after asserting he had suffered a seizure during a southern California driving incident involving a pair of hit-and-run crashes. President Obama has yet to nominate a replacement.
Also unreleased by the Commerce Department is a set of more than 60 case studies of alleged NOAA law enforcement abuses of fishermen produced at the request of the previous commerce secretary, Gary Locke, by retired federal magistrate Charles B. Swartwood III. Swartwood’s report was submitted in complete form no later than March.
A spokeswoman for the department has said the agency is reviewing the cases which stretch back many years. Based on an initial set of case studies by Swartwood, Locke in May 2011 offered an apology and more than $600,000 in reparations to 11 victims of justice miscarried by federal agents.
The turnaround of the first filing by Swartwood was barely a month. The department has been sitting on the second Swartwood report for more than four months.
Rough estimates of reductions in the allowable catch of many groundfish species next year that run from 45 to more than 70 percent.
”Those numbers,” the senators continued, “suggest the possibility of further difficulties for fishermen and fishing communities in Massachusetts, specifically the small boat fishermen who can least bear the burden of additional declines in available fish. It is our understanding that these declines are not related to overfishing and not due to the actions of our fishermen.”
”In response to this information, we again ask that the federal government take immediate and decisive action to provide a disaster declaration for New England fishermen and fishing communities,” they wrote.
They added that they have also asked for a meeting in Massachusetts with Acting NMFS Administrator Sam Rauch and stakeholders to review “the current science, fishing allocation process and to determine the options available.”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.