GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 29, 2013

Governor takes fishery case to White House

Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — Gov. Deval Patrick has told Attorney General Martha Coakley that he has briefed a senior advisor to President Obama — Valerie Jarrett — on the “pressing needs of our fishing industry,” including the need for immediately emergency relief from pending drastic cuts in landings that, while not yet posted in the Federal Register, are due to take effect for the groundfishing year that begins Wednesday.

Because of his official position and his friendship with President Obama, Patrick had been urged by Coakley and a large contingent of state lawmakers, led by Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann Margaret Ferrante, to appeal to the White House to halt the imposition of a 77 percent cut in the allowable landings of Gulf of Maine cod, the lifeblood of the inshore fleet based in Gloucester, but also found in secondary ports to the north and south.

In his letter sent Friday to Coakley, the governor wrote that he had spoken Thursday to Jarrett, also a personal friend of the president as well as the director of the office of intergovernmental affairs, about the importance of of granting the groundfishing industry “interim” relief for a second year through lesser reductions in allowable landings for Gulf of Maine cod and other stocks.

NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard last week told the New England Fishery Management Council he intended to impose the draconian cuts, some more extreme than the council recommended, for the new commercial fishing year that begins Wednesday, though the regulatory order had not been published in the Federal Register by the end of the day Friday. Bullard has repeatedly said he was barred from granting the industry a second year of “interim” action allowing only moderate reductions in Gulf of Maine cod by an unreleased legal memorandum from NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer

Bullard has also emphasized that, regardless of whether a second year of “interim” relief was illegal — an assertion disputed by Attorney General Coakley, the congressional delegation, the council itself and the Northeast Seafood Coalition, the largest groundfishing industry organization — he would not raise the ceiling on in shore cod fishing out of his sense of stewardship to the resource. And he has consistently noted that, in 2012, the fleet has not come close to catching even all the inshore cod that was allowed.

At the same meeting of the council in Mystic, Conn., Bullard said he’d been lobbied to give the industry relief by many groups and individuals, adding that he was prepared to be asked by President Obama to approve a second year of interim rule. But he said he would not change his position — even if requested by the president himself.

Efforts to reach Jarrett regarding her response Sunday were unsuccessful. The White House did not respond to a telephone inquiry for reaction to the briefing and plea that Gov. Patrick described in his letter to Coakley. In addition to being a personal friend of the President and a senior White House advisor, Jarrett also headed the first first transition team for President-elect Obama in 2008-2009.

In his letter to Coakley, the governor wrote that he had spoken to Jarrett, senior advisor to the president last Thursday about the “pressing needs of our fishing industry and the outstanding request ... for an interim measure to the lessen the impact of the impending dramatic cuts.”

Copies of the governors letter was given to the Times by Tarrr and Ferrante.

“I asked that the White House do everything it can to ensure that all federal resources are made available to our fishing industry,” Patrick also wrote.

Last September, 11 months after Gov. Patrick’s request for a disaster declaration for the groundfishery industry, the acting commerce secretary recognized the Northeast groundfishery, including Gloucester, as an “economic disaster.” But neither the administration nor Congress have extended any aid to address the issue, and no disaster relief was included in President Obama’s $8.6 billion budget request for the Commerce Department, in which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the largest sub-cabinet agency.

The furious 11th-hour effort to obtain some relief from the unprecedented cuts in allowed landings of many key stocks — most in the 40-50 percent range — comes as the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition prepares for a rally today at 11 a.m. on the Boston Fish Pier, with Coakley, U.S. Rep. John Tierney, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and William “Mo” Cowan, and other officials, including Mayor Carolyn Kirk, scheduled to be among the speakers. Patrick will be represented by his secretary of energy and environmental affairs, Rick Sullivan.

Sullivan and Paul Diodati, the director of marine fisheries, have been active in discussions with the industry about the best methods of relief from the cuts as well, as three years of the Obama administration’s catch share management system has triggered a deep consolidation of the industry, driving out smaller, independent boats and costing jobs on the waterfront in Gloucester and elsewhere.

One goal of the catch share commodity market system, made explicit by former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, an Obama appointee, was a reduction in the size of the fleet. In an email in response to questions submitted by the Times, Lubchenco in April 2009, soon after her confirmation, said her goal was to see “a sizeable fraction” of the fleet put out of business.

Lubchenco announced her resignation from the top NOAA job last December and left her post in February; last week, Acting Commerce Secretary Roberta Blank announced her departure for academia as well, leaving both Commerce and NOAA leaderless at the top.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.