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October 13, 2012

Tierney pushes for shielded NOAA report

Congressman John Tierney Friday pressed Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank to release what is widely believed within industry and legal circles to be an explosive set of 66 case studies into possible law enforcement abuses of the fishing industry completed and delivered by a special judicial master nearly seven months ago.

But neither Blank, Cameron Kerry, general counsel for the Commerce Department, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco nor her chief counsel Lois Schiffer responded to telephone and email queries from the Times for comment on the delay in releasing the second report completed by Special Master Charles B. Swartwood III.

“The livelihood of many fishermen will be seriously impacted by the information gathered and analyzed in the special master’s report, as the fines issued by the Offi e of Law Enforcement have already limited the ability of many fishermen to continue fishing,” wrote Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann.

The letter indicates it closely follows a telephone conversation between the two.

The refusal of the administration to issue the second Swartwood report has added to the alienation and cynicism of the fishing industry, which won vindication for years of complaints in the earlier Swartwood report. But even after a Cabinet level apology to 11 of the most abused victims of law enforcement excess and the payment of more than $650,000 in reparations, the government continued to be perceived as arrogant and patronizing. And the decision by Lubchenco to protect the careers of all those involved in the abuse of fishermen’s rights helped reinforce the alienation.

Also Friday, former New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, who helped convince then Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to authorize a second set of case studies by Swartwood, compared the government’s unexplained, unreleased report to an “abscess” that grows in pressure and pain until lanced.

“This is troubling to say the least,” said Lang, who left office last year and now is practicing law in New Bedford. “This is the same agency that, when I did a F.O.I.A. (Freedom of Information Request), they sent us one tenth of the eligible material and came up with every possible explanation for why they could not (comply).

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