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January 31, 2011

Governor takes fishing case to the top

Expressing "extraordinary frustration" with the U.S. Commerce Department, Gov. Deval Patrick Monday released a written plea to President Obama for his personal intervention "to set your agencies ... on a course of cooperation" with the commercial fishing industry.

In writing to his longtime friend and political ally from their earlier days together in Illinois, Patrick brought the political, social and economic crisis in the New England fishing industry to the desk of the president for the first time, and at the start of the two-year presidential election cycle.

The letter was dated last Friday, and the White House had no immediate response Monday.

The letter was released on the same day U.S. Sen. Scott Brown announced legislation to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act to put Commerce Department fisheries policies under independent evaluation.

Brown said he was filing the legislation because the Commerce Department and its fisheries agencies "refuse to acknowledge" that recent policies, including the conversion of the groundfishing industry into a commodities market that trades in "catch shares" are "strangling the fishing industry."

The separate actions by a Democratic governor and Republican senator reflect the bi-partisan coalition of elected officials in state and federal offices that has drawn together in defense of one of the nation's indigenous industries — commercial fishing — over the first two years of the Obama presidency.

Administration policies, cited by the governor for causing unemployment, have been defended by a cohort of environmental groups that have argued any loosening catch limits or deadlines for full recovery of overfished stocks will jeopardize ocean ecosystems.

New Bedford gathering

Patrick and Brown were both represented at a meeting earlier this month of New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang's Ocean and Fisheries Council at which Congressman Barney Frank said continued federal unresponsiveness to a fisheries failure brought on by unpopular Obama administration ocean policies threatened his relationship with the White House.

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