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December 16, 2010

NOAA chief: System not causing job loss

NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco Thursday issued a ringing defense of her and now the nation's catch share system, telling one of her and her policy's fiercest critics that catch shares are "merely a tool," not an outcome, and are thus "not the cause" of lost fishing industry jobs.

Addressed to Congressman Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican who represents the fishing communities of the Outer Banks, Lubchenco's letter implicitly challenges scientific findings by a government-academic team that the new catch share regimen for the New England groundfishery had brought the historically independent industry to its knees.

Gov. Deval Patrick and the Congressional delegation sent the report of a government-made economic crisis to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Nov. 5, along with a formal plea for Locke to use authority he has acknowledged having to issue an emergency order lifting catch limits to feed vitality back into the industry.

According to the report, prepared for Patrick by academic and state government scientists and sent to Locke, the catch share regimen together with super-conservative catch limits chosen by regulators had idled more than half the fleet, and concentrated control of the seafood catch in the wealthiest hands, destabilizing the ports' economies.

Lubchenco's letter to Jones, who has worked closely with the Massachusetts delegation in opposition to catch shares and the scandalized law enforcement system at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was sent the day after Massachusetts' U.S. senators and ocean district congressmen — including John Tierney for Gloucester and Barney Frank for New Bedford — acted in frustration over the lack of a response by Locke to the now five-week-old plea for an emergency allocation of groundfish.

Together with Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and Rep. Bill Delahunt, Tierney and Frank urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to link approval of the administration's $50 million request to expand catch shares — included in the Omnibus budget bill — to approval of the requested emergency order to relieve a government-made economic crisis in Gloucester, New Bedford and other ports. The Senate was expected to take up the massive spending package soon.

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