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January 7, 2012

NOAA pegs two finalists to lead local fishing office

A former mayor of New Bedford, John Bullard, and George LaPointe, who recently ended a lengthy run as director of marine resources in Maine, are the finalists for appointment to the Gloucester-based hot seat as next regional administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, sources told the Times on Friday.

The position became vacant last month with the retirement of Patricia Kurkul, who had been regional administrator since 1999. Kurkul had announced in July that she was leaving by the end of 2011.

Lapointe was the state of Maine's representative on the New England Fishery Management Council for 11 years through 2009 while he was heading Maine marine resources.

Bullard, who served as mayor of New Bedford from 1986 to 1992, is president of the Sea Education Association.

The selection process was opened for advice from stakeholders for the first time, a byproduct of the tumultuous times that accompanied the transformation of the New England groundfishery into a catch share management system and the uncovering in 2009 by a federal inspector general of a fisheries law enforcement system that victimized many fishermen and treated them often as criminals.

Sources at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said they expected an appointment to the administrator's post by March or April. Until Kurkul's successor is named, Dan Morris, the assistant regional administrator, is serving as acting administrator.

The short-term future for NOAA's Northeast region — which runs from Maine to the Carolinas and is regulated out of the agency's regional headquarters in Blackburn Industrial Park — is laden with crises, not the least of which is a pending final release of a Gulf of Maine cod assessment that is expected to show a precipitous decline in the size of the spawning cod.

If the finding is confirmed under the precepts of the Magnuson-Stevens Act's reauthorization in 2006, it would require an extreme reduction in the catch allocation for New England's fishermen.

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