By Richard Gaines
A controversial bill to redirect funding from NOAA Operations into regional fishery management council projects cast a shadow Monday over Wednesday's national fishermen's rally near the U.S. Capitol in Washington — a rally aimed at building support for different legislation and allowing flexibility in stock rebuilding timetables.
The chief organizer for the rally told the Times he had advised the office of Sen. Olympia Snow that she would probably not be welcomed at the event should she make an appearance to promote the Fisheries Investment and Regulatory Relief Act of 2012 — the new bill she co-filed with Sen. John Kerry — rather than bills writing flexibility into the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the rally's prime focus.
Jim Donofrio, executive director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance, said he had been contacted by Snowe's office about joining the list of speakers that includes Kerry, Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank, and about two dozen other federal lawmakers who have signed onto Senate and House versions of the flexibility bills.
"I told her (aide) the senator is welcome as long as she supports our goals for obtaining flexibility," said Donofrio. "We don't want her to discuss the 'Saltonstall-Kennedy' bill."
Donofrio was referring to the legislation Kerry and Snowe co-filed to reset the 1954 law that intended to create a dedicated funding source for fisheries research, development and marketing equal to 30 percent of seafood import tariffs. Over the years, Congress has diverted nearly all Saltonstall-Kennedy funding — about $100 million a year recently — into NOAA operations.
Donofrio said he was concerned about diluting the focus of the rally, a reunion from the February 2010 "United We Fish" that began a public drumbeat to loosen the strictures of the Magnuson Act on stock rebuilding deadlines.
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last October, in response to questioning by Rep. Frank, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco conceded there was no ecological rationale for rebuilding overfished stocks in 10 years, as Magnuson generally requires, but she declined to support flexibility legislation.
Snowe has not supported New York Sen. Charles Schumer's bill, part of a tandem with New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone's, to codify reasons to extend the rebuilding deadlines, which, when matched with the 2006 requirement for hard catch limits, have produced the ultra-small allocations that are the bane of the commercial and recreational fishing industry.
The pyramid of foundation-funded environmental groups led by Environmental Defense Fund and the Pew Environment Group have opposed loosening Magnuson, but are ardent supporters of Kerry and Snowe's reset of the Saltsonstall-Kennedy Act, written by then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and his Republican Massachusetts colleague.
The Fisheries Investment and Regulatory Relief Act, as Kerry and Snowe's bill is called, has raised suspicions due to the perception widespread within the recreational and commercial sectors that the eight regional fishery management councils, especially those for Atlantic fisheries of the Southeast and New England, have become captive to anti-fishing interests emanating from Lubchenco's office, EDF and the Pew Environment Group.
"I call it the Pew Relief Act," Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern (Commercial) Fisheries Association, said of Kerry and Snowe's bill — which also has the support of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, a fishing industry group.
Jones pointed out that the bill limits to three the number of industry representatives on each 13-member regional investment committee that would decide on the use of funds redirected from NOAA operations.
"It would be foolish to spend another penny on the councils until the management system is fixed," said former Mayor Scott Lang of New Bedford.
Lubchenco was an EDF officer before her nomination by President Obama to head NOAA, and before that was a Pew fellow and a driving force within the Pew Oceans Commission which helped set the agenda for the seas in the last decade before disbanding in 2003.
At Frank and Tierney's urging, the Commerce Department inspector general Todd Zinser n January notified Lubchenco that his office had begun reviewing the "rule-making process" — whether EDF, Pew and other non-government organizations all linked to well endowed foundations of industrial powerhouses including Wal-Mart and Intel.
Snowe's office did not respond to queries about her plans for Wednesday's noon rally at Upper Senate Park adjacent to the Russell Senate Office Building, which is attracting charter buses from as far away as Panama City, Florida. A bus for New Englanders is due to leave the New Bedford waterfront at 2 a.m., stopping to pick up passengers in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Kerry, whose office was made aware of the controversy over his bill, "is still working on his remarks," said his spokeswoman, Whitney Smith.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
To reserve a seat on the bus to Wednesday's Washington-bound fishing rally bus from New Bedford, contact Tina Jackson at 401-837-6932 or email@example.com. Reservations are $30 a seat. The Northeast Seafood Coalition has pledged to reimburse its members' bus costs.
The bus leaves New Bedford Wednesday morning at 2 a.m. Visit keepfishermenfishing.com for an itinerary and facts about the event.