By Richard Gaines
U.S. Sen. John Kerry is out of step with the majority of his Massachusetts colleagues when it comes to the solution of the fishing crisis that brought a large insurgency to Washington, D.C., earlier this week.
Nearly all Kerry's congressional colleagues with fishing communities in their districts have announced support for a partial rewrite of the Magnuson-Stevens Act that would eliminate a requirement that all overfished stocks be restored at the same moment.
Kerry has avoided hinting at his opinion on that initiative, which was the main reason for the gathering of at least 5,000 people from fishing communities on all three of the nation's coasts, Wednesday at the Capitol.
Massachusetts Congressmen Barney Frank, John Tierney, Michael Capuano and newly elected U.S. Sen Scott Brown have all announced their support of Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act, a bill that would add flexibility to Magnuson. At the end of the rally, the Recreation Fishing Alliance, the demonstration's lead sponsor, said there were eight federal senators and 30 congressmen backing the bill.
Over the past year, an informal consensus has developed behind the need to add flexibility to Magnuson. The act's rigid rebuilding timeline, combined with tight catch limits, have threatened the survival of countless commercial and recreational fishermen. The rally was a demonstration of the unanimous belief in the need for flexibility.
Asked for a statement about his position on Magnuson, Kerry yesterday released a statement that said "there were clear problems facing the industry that needed solution."
"Yesterday I met with more than 50 Massachusetts fishermen who came to Washington to share what's happening to them and their families. They're getting whacked hard right now and it's wrong. They're absolutely right that there should be a moratorium on pending enforcement cases against fishermen and I share their concerns about the enforcement of federal regulations," he said in the statement. "Now I'm coordinating a meeting between fishermen and federal authorities to resolve these concerns as soon as humanly possible."
But he did not mention Magnuson directly or implicitly at a meeting with fishermen in his office immediately following the rally Wednesday. Kerry, according to participants in the meeting, professed his confidence in Jane Lubchenco, the Obama administration's administrator for the oceans and atmosphere, and said he was sure she would solve the fishermen's problems.
"Lubchenco is your friend," he is reported to have said to fishermen at the meeting.
Kerry barred the press from the gathering in his office but numerous participants reported that discussion to the Times. Many said they were shocked by Kerry's vote of confidence in Lubchenco, who has shunned direct contact with fishermen since her confirmation a year ago and instead has organized a political rollout of a new industry model for the nation's fisheries. Catch shares are highly controversial and deeply distrusted by the industry.
In contrast to Kerry, Republican Brown, at a similar meeting with protestors, conceded he had much to learn but said he saw the need to add flexibility to Magnuson. Brown also said that he was depending on state Sen. Bruce E. Tarr, R-Gloucester, with whom he served in the state Senate, to be his teacher on fisheries issues. Tarr has been a stalwart leader for the New England fishing industry for more than a decade.
Tina Jackson, a fisherman and leader of the Point Judith, R.I., fleet, was one of the visitors to Kerry's meeting. She said Kerry described Lubchenco, as "your friend, our friend."
"He (Kerry) is out touch," Jackson said.
"Jane, she is our friend. Right," said Jim Donofrio, a leader of the New Jersey-based Recreational Fishing Alliance which organized Wednesday's protest rally.
Kerry released the following statement to the Times yesterday in response to a request about his position on Magnuson.
"The status quo isn't working, and I say that as someone who is passionate about the environment, but who can see plainly that people are hurting and there are legitimate issues that have to be fixed.
"I'm going to be talking with fishing and environmental experts at the state and federal level to develop sustainable fisheries in New England and work with the New England delegation, as I always have, to keep federal assistance flowing into Massachusetts for our fishing families and to rebuild the fisheries."
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.