By Richard Gaines
At the front of a broad, diverse and bipartisan political coalition, U.S. Sen. John Kerry Tuesday renewed the call for the Obama administration to improve its fisheries science, and to do right by the fishing industry of the New England and mid-Atlantic states.
"We've seen some progress in the past few weeks," Kerry said, referring to the announcement by the Commerce Department that it will send teams to Gloucester and other key New England fishing ports to evaluate the hardship engendered by conservative government-set catch limits that minimize allocations of fishermen's catch shares in the groundfishery.
But despite some recent concessions, Kerry said, "Massachusetts still needs a disaster declaration and we've got to deal with catch levels that are strangling our fishermen."
Administration fisheries management policies this past winter began to register as a dynamic national political issue, with the U.S. House voting in February to cut off funding for the conversion of the fisheries to catch share management systems that are steering more of the catch to larger boats and investors while driving out small, independent boats.
Just before the start of Tuesday's special U.S. Capitol meeting of New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang's Ocean and Fisheries Council, Kerry released copies of a letter he and Reps. Barney Frank and William F. Keating, both Massachusetts Democrats, had sent to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke asking that uncaught fish allocated for the soon ending fishing year be reallocated into the base for the 2011 season that begins May 1.
Lang's council meeting was held in the imposing Senate Foreign Relations Committee Room, which was made available through Kerry's office. It will in the same room that Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, examines Locke's suitability to become the next ambassador to China.
Kerry recently stepped into the forefront of the industry's struggle versus the Obama administration and its close alliance with the Environmental Defense Fund and other non-government organizations.
Lang and Kerry were joined at the informational and education meeting by Mayor Carolyn Kirk, Sen. Scott Brown, Congressman John Tierney, Frank, and Congressman Joseph Courtney of Connecticut, along with many industry activists and Brian Rothschild, the marine scientist and advisor to Lang and Frank.
A number of federal lawmakers who are part of the Atlantic fishing coalition including Walter Jones of North Carolina were not present, but James Ruhle, a North Carolina fisherman and political activist, did attend.
A North Carolina Republican, Jones sponsored and helped push through the House in February an amendment barring expenditures by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for any new catch share programs.
"This meeting," Kerry said in a statement to the Times, "underscored the urgency of the case I've been making in Washington and at home in Massachusetts."
Lang has taken his council to New Hampshire for the last meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council, and has been using it to project alternative analyses of scientific calculations and interpretations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to demonstrate that NOAA, under Jane Lubchenco, has repeatedly chosen draconian policies, tilting against the industry and jobs.
Similar complaints are at the core of a federal lawsuit, with the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford as lead plaintiffs.
The meeting in the Capitol also came as the White House prepares to formally submit Commerce Secretary Locke's name to the Senate for confirmation as ambassador to China, putting his record as the head of commerce in fisheries plainly in the spotlight.
"Mayor Lang and Brian Rothschild, made an impressive presentation that added depth and focus to the existing data," said Tierney. "Even though the meeting was not particular to Gloucester, listening to the perspectives of officials from New Bedford and costal Connecticut was useful.
"A growing number of advocates are lining up to fight for fairness and needed support for the fishing community, and in particular, for increased cooperative research," he said in a statement.
Bob Vanasse, editor of SavingSeafood, the internet industry news digest who helped organize the event, said he was struck watching the session that "the effort that began at the Fishermen's Club on Orchard Street in New Bedford had moved to this room, where Presidents Eisenhower and Wilson and Benjamin Franklin were looking on from portraits on the wall."
"The discussion," he said, "has come a long way."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.