Turning away from the only two candidates to be interviewed, the Obama administration has apparently decided to reopen the search for the nation's top fisheries administrator.
The unexpected delay comes as the government moves aggressively to remake the nation's fisheries, converting the commonly held resource of wild fish stocks into a tradeable commodity under a regulatory format based on fishermen's "catch shares."
Nearly three months after interviewing Brian Rothschild, an academic from Massachusetts, and Arne Foglvog, a former fisherman, fishery official and political appointee from Alaska, Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "continues to actively recruit candidates," her communications director Justin Kenney told the Times yesterday.
In June, Lubchenco, reportedly was ready to offer the job of administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service to Foglvog, 45, a former boat captain and member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council who has enjoyed the patronage of the Murkowski family political organization.
As a member of the council, Fuglvog was active in the commodification (or "rationalization") of the crab fishery, and has cited his experience in the transition to catch shares as an asset in his package of strengths.
Fuglvog's candidacy drew numerous letters of endorsement including from the United Fishermen of Alaska. He also has the support of the Environmental Defense Fund, which together with the Pew Environment Group has been leading the charge for converting the nation's fisheries to "catch shares."
The New England Fishery Management Council in June voted to convert to a hybrid system of catch shares for fishing cooperatives of sectors and a continuation of constricting effort controls for the common pool of fishermen without a sector affiliation beginning in 2010.
Leading the national catch share conversion campaign from inside the government has been Lubchenco, a former academic scientist with ties to both big green non-government organizations or ENGOS. EDF and Pew are allied with capital and corporate interests, and share the belief that applying market principles is the most effective way to control and conserve the fisheries.
In a visit to Boston earlier this month, Lubchenco sought to assuage concerns that catch shares would lead to external capitalization and ownership of the fishery which has somehow survived as a partial subsistence industry of mom and pop boats and shore side services.
Lubchenco asserted that the catch share system for the New England fishery could be engineered to prevent consolidation of catch share equity in the hands of a few large companies.
That is exactly what happened in Alaska with the crab rationalization, which took effect in 2005, and in the hurly burly of Alaska politics, Fuglvog's role in the imposition of the new approach to the crab fishery, which left many deck hands out in the cold without jobs or a share of the equity, earned Fuglvog criticism along with praise.
"It doesn't get any better than this, wrote one contributor to the Alaska commercial fishing Web site Deck Boss in May when Fuglvog's appointment seemed imminent. "When in the history of NMFS could there possibly be a better candidate for this job?"
Not everyone agreed.
"I'll be casting about for letters of recommendation for alternative B," an anti-Fuglvoger wrote. "In this case the 'devil you know' is not the preferred alternative. Let's let the Secretary of Commerce know what Fuglvog has really excels at — eliminating jobs, destroying economies, etc."
Spurred by appointees of then-Gov. Sarah Palin, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in June took tentative steps toward a partial unwinding of the crab rationalization before putting the hot potato-subject off until December.
Council staff members prepared a document that raised the prospect of eliminating processor shares from the system, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported on June 5.
Fuglvog is a legislative aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and was appointed to the council by her father, the then-Gov. Frank Murkowski. He appointed his daughter to his former Senate seat after his election and swearing in as governor.
He also served on a the International Whaling Commission in 2007 along with Scot Smullen, who now is one of Lubchenco's press secretaries, and Monica Medina, who chaired the NOAA transition team for Barack Obama and was hired by Luchenco to head up a catch share task force.
Medina had been chief counsel to NOAA in the Clinton administration before settling into a similar position at the Pew Environment Group during the two terms of George W. Bush. Medina's husband, Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Joseph Biden, organized the selection process for the nomination of federal judge Sonia Sotomayer to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The first report that Lubchenco had decided to rethink the appointment to head NMFS came from Editor's Log, the blog of Jerry Fraser, publisher and editor-in-chief of the monthly National Fisherman.
"We are hearing that there is a six-month hold on filling the top spot at NMFS," he wrote last week. "That is not good news. Two good candidates (Fuglvog and Rothschild) remain twisting in the wind, and Jim Balsiger (the acting administrator) remains in the post as a lame duck.
"This is unacceptable," Fraser wrote. "There is work to do."
An expanded version of that report is expected to appear in National Fishermen's September issue, which comes out in August.
Balsiger, an Alaskan and careerist at NMFS, told the Times yesterday he was asked "about two weeks ago, maybe July 7, if I would agree to stay for a few more months while they continued the selection process."
"They didn't have a candidate (they wanted to appoint)," said Balsiger, who has made it known he could be a candidate.
Fuglvog yesterday did not return phone calls.
Rothschild, 74, and a professor of marine science at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth's School of Marine Science and Technology, said he had heard nothing official.
Both candidates interviewed with Lubchenco in the spring soon after she was confirmed as NOAA administrator.
Rothschild's candidacy was carried primarily by Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. As the spring unfolded, New England became a hotbed of resistance to NOAA and NMFS policies. Rothschild mobilized the resources of the marine science school on behalf of the fishing industry based in New Bedford, the No. 1 port in the nation in terms of landing values, primarily due to the success of the scallop fishery.
Richard Gaines can be reached at email@example.com.