By Richard Gaines
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is questioning NOAA's decision to spend $150,000 in "scarce fisheries research" funding to hold a "sweepstakes" under the guise of studying fishing economics.
"The Massachusetts fishing industry is on the brink of collapse due to federal mismanagement," Brown wrote to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. "NOAA's own data prove that this economic and jobs disaster has rapidly accelerated since the current administration's implementation of the 'catch shares' system.
"At this time of peril for our commercial fishermen," he said, "I question whether it is responsible to divert resources into a social science experiment about recreational fishing licenses."
Brown noted in his letter, sent on Friday, that the news of the $150,000 sweepstakes comes on the heels of details about abuses by agents of NOAA's $300,000 "luxury party boat" and reinforces the public's perception that NOAA is an agency with the wrong fiscal priorities. In its letter to Lubchenco, Brown's office referenced a March 2 Boston Globe story that spotlighted the survey effort.
NOAA has contracted with a research firm in the Washington, D.C., area to survey holders of Massachusetts recreational fishing permits about how much money it would take to convince them to surrender their permits.
Under the arrangement, Brown reported in his letter which was released to the Times, 1,900 recreational fishermen are to be included in the survey, with 500 letters containing an actual check to be used as an inducement to give up fishing, while 700 will be given a hypothetical cash offer and 700 more will be asked how little would it take for them to give up their license.
"The academic question of how much money it would take to convince a weekend angler to give up his or her hobby might be of interest to NOAA economists," Brown wrote. "But the commercial fishermen of Gloucester, New Bedford, Boston and Cape Cod are preoccupied with the real-life question of whether they can stay in business for another season.
"Given the dire situation at our ports," he wrote, "it is unclear to me why NOAA is involuntarily entering recreational fishermen into a sweepstakes where the 'prize' is a $15 to $500 check that can only be cashed if the fisherman agrees to give back a $10 license.
"That license, it should be noted, was a recent creation of fishing regulators."
"It has been reported that the purpose of this experiment was to collect general data on the value fishermen place on fishing," he wrote. "I believe that the random mailing of taxpayer checks to recreational fishermen could not have come at a worse time. Coverage in local newspapers has further damaged NOAA's credibility in the fishing community and exposed the agency to widespread ridicule."
Brown asked for an explanation of the approval process for the project. "At this point," he said, "I urge you to refocus on NOAA resources away from answering hypothetical questions and back to doing useful fisheries science."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org.