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March 9, 2011

Kerry: Commerce should admit catch shares 'disaster'

Expressing concern that the commodification of New England's groundfishery has accelerated economic inequality, Sen. John Kerry has urged the U.S. Commerce Department to acknowledge the policy has been a "disaster" — as alleged by elected federal and state officials.

With such a declaration, Kerry asked for "emergency economic assistance" to the fleet — a step that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has repeatedly declined to take.

Kerry also complained that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries service had provided information that did not "accurately" reflect the status of the fishery while improperly withholding market reports and other data on the catch share regimen now nearing the end of its rollout year.

The state's senor senator issued his critique of Obama administration fisheries policy in parallel documents — the first a letter to Locke and NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, arising from a meeting he had with them last Thursday; the second, written testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee's fisheries subcommittee, which held a hearing Tuesday into the impact of the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Between Kerry's meeting last Thursday, and the release of the letter and written testimony Wednesday, the White House announced that President Obama is nominating Locke as the next ambassador to China, a move that will require vetting by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry chairs.

Kerry's office said Wednesday he would have no comment on how and whether the dispute with Locke on fisheries policy might influence the confirmation.

Sen. Scott Brown also declined to comment on the Locke nomination Wednesday, but in a statement to the Times, the Republican did say Locke's "departure represents a real opportunity for President Obama to begin to rebuild the relationship between his administration and our fishermen."

"If this administration is truly concerned about the needs of fishermen in Massachusetts and across the country," Brown said, "the president's next Commerce Secretary should be committed to advancing a management plan that promotes the economic vitality of our fishing communities, as well as a sustainable catch policy."

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