GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 10, 2011

Frank: Commerce chief lacks 'courage' to make fishing call

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

Congressman Barney Frank Monday described U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as a weakling without the "courage" to stand up to his own subordinates.

In a radio interview, Frank said he felt "betrayed" by the decision conveyed in the letter Locke sent Friday — to him and Gov. Deval Patrick — that rejected a scientific and economic finding that the federal government's catch share regulatory regimen, in combination with ultra conservative catch limits, had delivered a body blow to the groundfishing industry based in Gloucester and New Bedford.

Frank, whose district includes New Bedford, described Locke as having been "recaptured" by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco and Eric Schwaab, her choice to head NOAA's Fisheries Service.

Lubchenco, an environmental activist scientist, was instrumental in creating the Obama administration's catch shares policy, and co-writing a policy paper for the Environmental Defense Fund before the 2008 presidential election, urging catch shares as a means of ending overfishing.

That moment has arrived, Steve Murawski, NOAA's recently retired chief scientist, asserted in a lengthy interview with the Associated Press last week. He asserted that the nation this year will mark the "milestone."

"We're the only industrialized nation that has succeeded in ending overfishing," he said. The United States imports 80 percent of her seafood.

"Murawski's statement has justified everything we've been saying (about the strength of the stocks allowing more liberal catch limits to reduce industry hardships)," New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang said Monday in an telephone interview.

Lang and Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who have joined their cities to the federal litigation challenging the constitutionality and legality of the catch share regulatory regimen, both said they hoped the governor would appeal the ruling to the White House.

"They can't implement their mandates in a good faith way, it's like Alice in Wonderland," said Lang.

A spokeswoman for the governor said Patrick intended to file an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit "in the days ahead."

Brian Rothschild, the dean of marine scientists at UMass-Dartmouth, announced a Thursday, 4 p.m. meeting in New Bedford of the "Mayor's Ocean and Fisheries Council to discuss the crisis.

Frank, along with Congressmen John Tierney, D-Salem, and Walter Jones, R-N.C., last summer urged the president to sack Lubchenco based on their finding of her hostility to the industry.

"Locke doesn't have the courage to stand up to them," Frank said in an interview on WBSM, AM 1420 out of New Bedford. "He can't fend off the bureauracy."

Frank expressed anger at Locke's vacillation and written position, and said he would take the matter to the White House where he said he intended to present the same case for relief, this time to the newly appointed Chief of Staff William Daley.

In his 30-minute radio interview, Frank recalled that as Commerce Secretary in 1996, Daley stood up to pressure from environmental groups and agreed to increase scallop catch limits, a decision Frank said was proved correct and helped strengthen the scallop industry.

Like Frank, many participants in the groundfishing industry and their advocates expressed surprise that Locke — along with Schwaab, administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service — rejected the report on the impact of the new regulatory system that was assembled last fall by marine scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at the behest of the governor.

Locke sent one-page letters rejecting the application for relief; Schwaab, in a lengthy letter to the governor, took on the arguments, rejecting the request for more liberal catch limits as beyond the authority of the secretary, and suggesting the request for economic aid is unwarranted because there are "positive signs" the system is working.

Patrick had mobilized the push for loosened limits in October, after Locke acknowledged Frank's research showing that the Magnuson-Stevens Act allowed him, as Secretary of Commerce, to liberalize fish catch limits and grant economic relief in response to man-made crises.

The optimistic tenor of the letter Patrick sent to Locke on Nov. 5 is in stark contrast to the anger coming from the governor, Frank and Tierney, Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, and the mayors of New Bedford and Gloucester in the aftermath of the Locke and Schwaab letters released Friday.

Patrick quoted from Locke's letter of Oct. 14, in which the secretary said he was "prepared to issue an emergency regulation to revise catch limits whenever there is both sufficient economic and sound scientific data" to support that finding.

Patrick mobilized his marine fisheries office and the UMass-Dartmouth's School of Marine Science and Technology, whose report to Locke remains the only credentialed study of the impact of catch shares fused to fishing cooperatives working with extra conservative catch limits.

In rejecting the report, Schwaab offered theories and "likely" explanations, which Frank described as "cruel and arrogant."

"This is not a fight on the merits, it's a political fight," Frank said in his radio interview.

Locke, a former governor of Washington state and prosecutor, was President Obama's second choice to head the Department of Commerce. His first nominee, then-U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, declined the appointment.

Obama named Lubchenco to head NOAA before resolving to fill the cabinet position superior to hers.

Lubchenco, meanwhile, took nearly a year to find Schwaab in a mid-level Maryland state position to head NMFS. She declined to appoint Rothschild, who was not only the first choice of Frank, but preferred nominee of much of the fishing industry.

Lubchenco never explained why she avoided a selection that would have cemented her relationship to the industry, but it is known that the Environmental Defense Fund and the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association on Cape Cod had given a thumbs down to Rothschild based on his association with the fleet of draggers.

The hook fishermen's association, which now largely has given up hook and line fishing for gillnetting, has been financially subsidized by environmental groups in their opposition to the traditional forms of commercial fishing practiced in New Bedford and Gloucester.

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