By Richard Gaines
NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco and Brian Rothschild — the distinguished scientist she chose not to name to head national marine fisheries — are among the witnesses listed to testify at Sen. John Kerry's long-awaited Senate Commerce Committee hearing Oct. 3 on the state's fishing industry.
Set to be held at the State House, the hearing format will "allow for direct questioning and analysis from the administration as well as both seasoned and fresh voices from Massachusetts' fishing and science communities," Kerry told the Times in a prepared statement issued Thursday.
Along with Lubchenco and Rothschild, from University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, the witness list includes: commercial fisherman Stephen P. Welch from Scituate, who regularly lands his catch in Gloucester; Paul Diodati, director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries; "Rip" Cunningham, Jr., acting chairman of the New England Fisheries Management Council; and Steve Cadrin, a professor of oceanography at UMass-Dartmouth.
Welch is also a member of the board of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition.
Cunningham last summer took umbrage at a widely read op-ed column by Rothschild that described the regulatory system as broken and incapable of voluntary reform, and the acting council chief penned a rejoinder that defended the performance of the council, an arm of NOAA's Northeast regional management.
Also scheduled to be a part of the hearing — as part of the panel with Kerry — are Sen. Scott Brown and Congressmen John Tierney, Barney Frank and William Keating, whose districts include the fishing ports of Massachusetts.
Tierney represents Gloucester and Cape Ann, Frank's district includes New Bedford and Fairhaven Keating has the ports south of Boston and along Cape Cod.
Cadrin, until this year, was chairman of the Science and Statistical Committee for the New England Fishery Management Council, and earlier this year moved into the center of an unresolved controversy with Lubchenco and the federal fisheries bureaucracy over the harm — or lack thereof — to the state's fishing communities by Amendment 16, the reorganzation of the groundfishery into a quasi commodities market that trades in fishermen's catch shares across 17 "sectors," or fishing business cooperatives.
As the days at sea permits were transformed into rights to catch an allocation of the multiple species based on past fishing history, equity in the industry was created — and destroyed — in a fell swoop, and, according to various reports and data, the industry that had been adapting for years to reduced fishing opportunities was further destabilized.
A report from NOAA Science Center in Woods Hole Wednesday confirmed anecdotal evidence that the totality of the changes — including statutorily required catch limits that were set at severely reduced levels — had tilted the playing field to the advantage of the biggest and best capitalized businesses, while pushing out more mom-and-pop fishing boat businesses.
Kerry complained about the syndrome of regulation that helped the better-capitalized businesses at the expense of the smaller competitors in a clash earlier this year with then-Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Locke, who has since been named U.S. ambassador to China, had begun standing in for Lubchenco after Frank and Tierney, among others in Congress, had lost hope of working productively with her and had called for President Obama to replace her as head of NOAA.
Kerry originally promised to hold a hearing in the spring or summer, but Lubchenco's repeated unavailability led to a series of unofficial postponements. She was also invited to testify in June at a Senate subcommittee hearing organized by Sen. Brown, but demurred — sending instead Eric Schwaab, her choice to head the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Her unexplained decision to avoid choosing Rothschild for that position — despite much congressional support, including that of Frank — helped widen the schism between Lubchenco and the fishing industry.
Earlier this month, the American Fisheries Society presented Rothschild its prestigious Oscar Elton Sette Award for "sustained excellence in marine fishery biology."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.