GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 20, 2010

Firm tied to NOAA lands $6M deal

Company with Essex office tapped to monitor catch shares

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

A global firm with close ties to top federal fisheries officials and the Environmental Defense Fund, architect of the nation's catch share policy, is one of four that has been qualified to provide on-board monitoring — worth as much as $6.5 million a year — when the New England fisheries go under catch system rules May 1.

Marion Veber, the acquisitions officer in charge of the selection, which is expected this week, declined all comment on the matter yesterday and refused to identify the qualified firms competing for all or a part of the monitoring contract for the catch share system.

But MRAG Americas, whose president Andrew Rosenberg cuts a high profile in global fisheries, has posted on its Web site that it has already been selected.

"MRAG chosen to provide sector monitoring for New England groundfish fishery" read the headline under "Recent news."

The Web site reports that MRAG Americas, which has an office in Essex, is "one of the contractors" chosen to place at-sea monitors on boats for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Robert J. Trumble, a vice president at MRAG, said his company has received official notification of its selection as one of three companies to share the work, with the amounts to be determined the number of monitors each firm has working.

NMFS regional administrator Patricia Kurkul, who succeeded Rosenberg after he left government for academia and the private sector, approved MRAG Americas, A.I.S. Inc. of New Bedford, East West Technical Services of New Britain, Conn., and Saltwater Inc. of Anchorage, Alaska, "as eligible" to provide monitoring, according to the Federal Register and the published terms of Amendment 16, the new fishing regime for the groundfishery.

Interviewed yesterday, Jerry Cygler, president of East West — which he described as a "mon and pop" company but with more than enough experience to win part of the contract — said he believed the plan was for NMFS' parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to make decisions this week.

Cygler said East West has proven itself with the scallop industry.

"There are a lot of huge companies with academics at their backbone that have no feel for the fishing industry," Cygler volunteered — confirming he was referring to MRAG Americas, which according to the Web site, federalpsending.org, had been paid $10.6 million in federal contracts during the past 10 years.

The Times did not reach A.I.S. or Saltwater Inc.

Among MRAG's prominent clients is the Environmental Defense Fund, whose faith in investment markets has become a defining element. It was as EDF's vice chairwoman last year that Jane Lubehenco, together with Rosenberg and other fellow scientists, helped craft the catch share policy for the Obama administration and, after her confirmation to head NOAA, moved the EDF catch share program forward to national policy.

According to the MRAG Web site, an MRAG product was the EDF Catch Share Manual.

With Lubchenco in office last year, Rosenberg was given a small, but prestigious appointment as a "senior advisor" by the White House Council Environmental Quality for its work on ocean zoning.

Rosenberg and Lubchenco have been professional close colleagues for many years, and have co-written numerous academic scientific papers together after Rosenberg resigned as NMFS regional administrator, clearing the path for Kurkul.

Rosenberg established himself at the University of New Hampshire where he obtained millions in government and foundation grants while helping to building a major research center at the school's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space.

According to the MRAG Web site, he is no longer at UNH, but a senior vice president for science and knowledge at Conservation International, an organization with corporate partners like Chevron and 3M.

"Previously," MRAG said, "he was a professor in the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire. Over the past three years, he has also been a member of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy."

Rosenberg has been a major figure in New England Fisheries issues for many years, with a reputation within the fishing community as an environmental hardliner.

Rosenberg helped Lubchenco and more than dozen other scientists with the same values and views write the Obama policy on catch shares.

Written before the election, the paper, "Oceans of Abundance" claimed to represent a scientific consensus that "fishing is fundamentally altering ocean ecosystems which are increasingly likely to yield massive swarms of jellyfish rather than food fish."

The thrice footnoted sentence relies on a much-disputed claim in a scientific paper from 2003 that 90 percent of "large fish have been removed from the oceans."

Rosenberg was the first and only expert quoted by the Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin in the first story to break the news last Dec. 18 of President-elect Obama's decision to put Lubchenco in charge of NOAA, and was effusive in his praise of the NOAA nominee.

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