By Richard Gaines
U.S. Sen. John Kerry has reiterated his appeal for relief for two commercial fishermen whose businesses suffered from "what he has called bureaucratic mistakes by the National Marine Fisheries Service."
In a lengthy letter to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Kerry reviewed the lengthy advocacy he and members of the congressional delegation have undertaken on behalf of Jim Keding of Plymouth and Kevin Scola of Marshfield.
"No one has provided me with any evidence whatsoever to contradict Mr. Keding's and Mr. Scola's contention that clear mistakes by NMFS have done them economic harm," Kerry wrote.
However, NOAA has provided the Times copies of two letters sent to Kerry earlier this year — months before his Oct. 19 letter to Lubchenco — by NMFS administrator Eric Schwaab, who reviewed the snafus that left Keding deep in debt from overpaying for a boat due to a misunderstanding about the landing history, and Scola denied a reissue of the limited access swordfish handgear permit he had been using without violation for many years.
Schwaab's letters analyzing Keding's and Scola's situations concluded that in both cases the fishermen — not NOAA — were responsible for their own misfortune.
In Keding's case, Schwaab said in his letter of Feb. 28 the facts show that Keding requested the catch data for the boat he was considering acquiring, and he based his decision on that data "assuming the entire landings history would be conveyed to him when he purchased the vessel."
His mistake, Schwaab wrote, was not asking — and therefore not being told — whether the entire landing history was to have been his as the buyer. In fact, the administrator explained, in the case of the boat in question, the previous owner to the one negotiating with Keding had kept for himself the entire catch history from May 1996 to October 2004.
The entire landing history for the boat and the "available" landing history — the history used by NOAA to calculate the catch share to the boat purchased by Keding — were not the same, indeed, not even close.
A week after Kerry brought the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee to the State House, Keding testified at a state legislative committee hearing that he paid for a boat that he was led to believe had a viable catch history of 160,000 pounds of fish. Only later did he learn that the distribution of catch shares by NOAA left the boat only 17,000 pounds — with the difference held by the previous owner.
Schwaab wrote to Kerry that Keding's permit history and his correspondence (with NMFS) indicates he was "familiar with the process of transferring" permits through vessel replacement, having done it twice in 2004.
"His correspondence indicates that he understands that fishing and permit history ... can be retained by a seller if documented in a bill of sale," Lubchenco's assistant administrator wrote.
"I appreciate Mr. Keding's difficult economic circumstances, but there is no factual or legal basis to justify an adjustment to his allocation," Schwaab concluded.
Schwaab's May 2 letter reviewing Scola's problems said he was denied a reissue of the swordfish handgear permit because he had not applied for a renewal before the expiration date of May 31, 2009.
Kerry, in multiple letters — including the one to Lubchenco last Wednesday — wrote that Scola "inadvertently sent his swordfish renewal application to the Northeast Regional Office" here in Gloucester, where the rest of his permit-related paperwork goes, instead of to the Southeast Regional Office in St. Petersburg, Fla, which administers the swordfish program.
But Schwaab questioned the claim that the application was sent to the wrong location.
"NMFS personnal at both locations have searched our records extensively several times to locate such an application, or some record of its receipt," Schwaab wrote. "We did not find an application from Mr. Scola for the renewal of (his swordfish handgear permit) from 2009. Because federal regulations do not provide an exception to the permit renewal deadlines, the permit cannot be reinstated."
Kerry's office, however, told the Times Monday that Scola has a "return receipt for the application" that he said he mistakenly sent to Gloucester office, and found himself denied a renewal of the swordfishing permit.
"Unfortunately," Kerry wrote to Lubchenco last Wednesday, "his renewal application was never forwarded to the Southeast Regional Office nor was he ever given notice reminding him that his application had not been received as NMFS has done for his other permits.
"I find it difficult to understand why Mr. Scola's application was not forwarded and why NOAA has not taken a greater effort to help resolve this issue," Kerry wrote.
Kerry's spokeswoman, Whitney Smith, said the release of the letters from Schwaab did not change Kerry's position from last week.
"As he wrote," Smith said, "the senator has not been provided any solid evidence to contradict Jim Keding's and Kevin Scola's contention that clear mistakes by NMFS have done them economic damage."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.