By Richard Gaines
Both Massachusetts' U.S. senators, Democrat John Kerry and Republican Scott Brown, have accepted invitations to speak at the second multi-coastal fishermen's rally, titled "Keep Fishermen Fishing," in Washington, D.C. on March 21.
Kerry has long been engaged in fisheries issues, but was not one of the two dozen federal lawmakers to participate in the 2010 "United We Fish" D.C, rally which galvanized a general resistance along the coasts to Obama administration fisheries policies and launched a movement to modify the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
The Magnuson act is the primary instrument of ocean resource conservation and regulated economic exploitation. The law requires that overfished stocks be rebuilt on a 10-year timeline. It is a requirement that the administration's top fisheries official, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, has conceded cannot be defended ecologically, and is seen by critics as the reason for overly restrictive catch limits as regulators limit harvesting to meet rebuilding deadlines.
"Sen. Kerry believes that additional flexibility is needed to help our fishermen," said his spokeswoman, Whitney Smith.
"We would be honored to have Sen. Kerry attend the rally in support of pragmatic Magnuson reform," said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and the rally's chief organizer. "This is a jobs issue for U.S. recreational and commercial fishing industry folks."
Brown, who won a special election in January 2010 to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, had just been sworn in at the time of the "United We Fish" rally in late February 2010 at the side of the Capitol, but made a surprise appearance, in which he promised to educate himself about fisheries.
From there, Brown threw himself into the industry's fight with the Obama administration that intensified over the two years since the initial event which drew around 5,000 industry representatives from all four coasts — the Atlantic, the Gulf, the Pacific and the Alaskan Pacific and Bering Sea.
The effectiveness of a bipartisan coalition allied with the industry has been limited by Democrats' unwillingness to press their own party's president for real, practical changes in fisheries regulation and management.
That dilemma was reflected Wednesday by the announcement that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick would co-chair President Obama's re-election campaign.
Patrick made the commitment even as his Nov. 15 formal plea for a federal disaster declaration for his state's groundfishery remained unanswered. The filing with Commerce Secretary John Bryson included multiple socioeconomic research findings that the "catch share" innovation, privatizing the resource, "has had a devastating impact" on groundfishing communities.
The executive director of the Deval Patrick Committee/Together PAC Inc., Alex Goldstein, dismissed questions about the governor's willing fealty to serve the re-election campaign without a quid pro quo commitment from the administration to help the fishermen.
Patrick "continues to push for a federal disaster declaration to provide direct relief to fishing families," Goldstein said in an email to the Times. "The governor is proud to support the President in his new role and he will continue to advocate for protections for our fishing communities."
A spokeswoman for Patrick emailed that the governor has a meeting with Bryson next Tuesday to discuss the disaster request and other fisheries issues.
"His position on the re-election committee could help highlight the disconnect between how catch share programs are playing out and Obama's vision around green jobs, local economies, and small businesses," said Brett Tolley, policy advocate for the Gloucester based Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance.
"Catch share programs, as we see in New England, are not promoting green jobs, are not supporting local economies, and are in fact having a negative disproportionate impact on small businesses," Tolley said.
In his quick study of fisheries, Brown readily came to the same conclusion — as did Kerry, albeit slowly and carefully, as is his wont. But by last October, when he hosted a Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing in Boston's State House, Kerry, who has taken unofficial diplomatic missions for the president and is a putative candidate to be secretary of state in a second Obama administration, all but demanded that the administration read, acknowledge and accede to the governor's request for relief from an economic disaster that he and others see as government-made.
It was at the Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing that NOAA's Lubchenco, in answer to a question from Rep. Barney Frank, conceded there was no scientific basis for the 10 years given to rebuild overfished stocks, but to his exasperation, she demurred when then asked if she would support legislation to write flexibility into Magnuson.
Frank, Rep. John Tierney along with Republicans Brown and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, all have called publicly on Obama to replace Lubchenco, but for all the histrionics, the president has remained publicly silent on the clash of cultures and ideas along the coasts, and the direction of administration policy has not much changed.
"(Fishermen) don't care about politics," Kerry said in an email. "They just want to be able to make a living, and Washington needs to hear them and talk to them in a way that's honest and fair.
"They don't expect Washington to solve their problems," he added, "but they sure as hell expect Washington to understand their problems and talk to them with respect."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.