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October 19, 2011

Kerry urges NOAA chief to admit 'disaster'

U.S. Sen. John Kerry told NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco Wednesday he expects her to be sent the scientific proof she's requiring about the harmful impact of catch share management on the groundfishery — and he expects her to issue a "disaster declaration later this month."

The letter builds on Lubchenco's testimony, the often barbed questioning of her by members of the congressional delegation and testimony by fishermen, academic scientists and the state director of marine fisheries at a field hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee organized by Kerry at the State House in Boston on Oct. 3.

Kerry's Wednesday letter also raised a new issue — information that has come to his attention of a NOAA policy that encourages "overzealous enforcement and excessive fines" by linking career advancement to the volume of cases and size of penalties taken from fishermen.

With its implied deadline 11 days away, Kerry's demand to Lubchenco referred to efforts that have so far have been rebuffed by the Obama administration's top commerce and fisheries officials, and noted that Gov. Deval Patrick sought $21 million in direct economic relief from Lubchenco's policies.

Those policies — none more so than catch shares, with its commodification and job losses from hyper-consolidation across New England's groundfishing industry — have driven a deeper wedge between the administration and a bipartisan coalition in Congress.

The mayors of Gloucester and New Bedford, their congressional representatives, John Tierney and Barney Frank — each of them Democrats — and Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, have all but written off Lubchenco, a former officer with the Environmental Defense Fund, as a lost cause for dealing with federal fishing issues.

New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang emerged from the Oct. 3 hearing calling for President Obama to replace her or suffer the political consequences.

And a videotaped interview with an equally frustrated Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk after the Commerce hearing has been circulating the blogosphere and has cited by the Drudge Report and conservative media commentator Sean Hannity (See related story).

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