By Richard Gaines
Twenty-one congressmen, including John Tierney, whose district includes Gloucester and all of Cape Ann, have asked the House Natural Resources Committee to send to the full House federal fisheries regulatory reform legislation that was the subject of a bicoastal rally of commercial and recreational fishing interests on the Capitol grounds last month.
Most of those who wrote to Chairman Doc Hastings spoke at the March 21 "Keep Fishermen Fishing" rally. It drew about 1,500 fishermen and allies, reprising many fishermen's call to write explicit flexibility into the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the ire directed at NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco at an even larger rally at the same location in the winter of 2010.
"Fishermen in this country are hurting badly due in large part to flaws in federal fisheries law and the implementation of that law," said the April 3 letter by House members of a bipartisan coastal caucus spanning districts from New Hampshire to Florida. "The tragedy is that much of the economic plight of these fishermen is totally unnecessary for adequate protection of fish stocks.
"Congress can and must do a better job of providing a statutory framework that will yield both healthy fish stocks and healthy fishing communities," the writers noted.
Efforts to obtain Hastings' response to the letter were unsuccessful Monday. But last Dec. 1, when the committee held a three-hour hearing on a package of fisheries management and regulatory reform ideas — some as simple as mandating broadcasts of regulatory hearings, others giving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration latitude to extend rebuilding deadlines for overfished stocks — the Washington State Republican said, "My intentions are to deal with these bills."
The House with its Republican majority is considered more willing than the Democrat-controlled Senate to write flexibility into Magnuson over objections from major nonprofit groups and administration resistance before Congress recesses for the summer and the homestretch to the November presidential and congressional elections.
Tierney and retiring Congressman Barney Frank, whose district includes the fishing port New Bedford, have been ardent participants in the campaign against NOAA regulatory policies and its budgeting priorities, which lead with commodification of fisheries at the expense of cooperative research and science.
At the Dec. 1 hearing, another Massachusetts congressman, Ed Markey, D-Malden, and the Conservation Law Foundation doubted the need for changing Magnuson before the next reauthorization — which according to tradition, occurs once a decade and would take place in 2016.
Markey, the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, issued a cryptic statement to the Times on Monday. He avoided commenting directly on the linchpin bill filed by Congressman Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, while endorsing the need for more money for stock assessments.
The Recreational Fishing Alliance, which organized the rallies last month and in 2010, is registered in support of Pallone's Magnuson flexibility bill, while the Ocean Conservancy has registered to lobby against not only Pallone's draft, but bills by Republican Congressman Jon Runyan of New Jersey to terminate catch share programs that consolidate the number of fishermen by 15 percent or more and impose peer review for the independent catch ceiling recommendations of regional fishery council science and statistical committees. That measure parallels a Senate bill filed last year by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.
According to the research website Fishtruth.net, the Ocean Conservancy has received more than $8 million in grants from industrial foundations, including Wal-Mart, since 2006.
Fishtruth.net has reported that, overall, foundations — including those endowed by the founders of Intel and Hewlett-Packard from the computing sector — have distributed more than $500 million to influence ocean and fisheries policies, and are closely aligned with Lubchenco, who was plucked out of academia and the Environmental Defense Fund board to head NOAA at the start of the Obama administration.
Congressman William Keating, a Quincy Democrat who represents the South Shore and Cape Cod, also signed the letter to Hastings and Markey. The other New Englander among the signers was Congressman Frank Guinta, a New Hampshire Republican,
Among the 21 signers were two New Yorkers, four representatives from New Jersey, two from North Carolina and nine from Florida.
At the committee hearing last fall, Rick Marks, a fishery scientist, industry lobbyist and former member of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, described the shared concern of flexibility advocates — that the 2006 reauthorization brought the nation "the Alaska model," where the scale of the industry produces enough revenue to support stock surveys, acute technological monitoring, and scientifically-based findings allowing confident calibrations of conservation and fishery yields.
The approach is "a good idea," Marks testified, "provided the scientific capabilities of the Alaska region also applied.
"We all know they don't," he said. "Instead, we ended up with a rigid implementation model resulting in precautionary buffers and lower yields at the expense of our industry and our nation."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or email@example.com.