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May 19, 2011

NOAA's permit 'bank' funding plan draws fire

The region's largest industry group, the Northeast Seafood Coalition is warning against a pending NOAA plan to create a federal fisheries banking system for New England linked to state permit banks with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revenues.

The Gloucester-based coalition used blunt language to critique the idea as a dangerous power grab, and hinted at a federal lawsuit to stop it.

Such a system — somewhat analogous to the Federal Reserve System — would shift influence over policy from the New England Fishery Management Council to the central "banker" — NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, the coalition's executive director Jackie Odell, said Thursday in a telephone interview.

Odell said she is concerned that the system would allow NOAA to leverage the power of the purse into unfettered influence over the coastal states, perhaps to reshape the industry according to the central banker's values.

Coming to government from a background as an academic research scientist and an officer of the Environmental Defense Fund, Lubchenco has written and spoken out against trawling, the dominant form of commercial fishing from the main ports of Gloucester and New Bedford, and for less intense fishing methods.

The potential power grab was but one of many objections to the proposal filed by the coalition with NOAA on Wednesday, the deadline for public comments.

The idea for a federally funded permit banking system, the draft of which goes before the regional council's Groundfish Committee at a meeting in Danvers next Thursday, came from NOAA, not the council, the arm of NOAA that works more on the grassroots level and develops ideas and innovations.

"The impetus came from (NOAA's) National Marine Fisheries Service," said Tom Nies, a fisheries analyst at the council, said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Is this a power shift and a power grab? I can't comment."

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