The threads of corruption infesting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and administrator Jane Lubchenco's beloved catch share fishery management program gets wider and more varied with each passing week.
So it is a mystery why every member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation is not making every effort possible to reign in the federal fishing regulatory agency through a budget amendment aimed at freezing NOAA's funding for expanding this job-killing national policy.
The latest example is an anonymous petition faxed to and circulated among fishermen, asking that they sign on in support the new regulatory system, which allocates fishermen "shares" of an allotted catch that be bought, sold or traded like commodities.
The system, launched in New England last May, has concentrated control of fisheries into larger, corporate hands and out of the hands of smaller, independent fishermen like those who dominate Gloucester and many other fishing communities around the country. And remember that, back in 2009, Lubchenco indicated that's actually a state goal of her program, saying she felt the need to eliminate "a sizeable fraction" of the fishing fleet.
Now comes a contrived petition, designed to make it look like there is grassroots support for catch shares among those it is putting out of business — smaller fishermen, and those who work as boat crew members.
That would be stunning if it were true — and would certainly make U.S. senators stand up and take notice. The reality, of course, is that it's not. The anonymous petition, as it turns out, was written at the behest of Mike Leary, a member of Sustainable Harvest in Maine, one of the biggest beneficiaries of catch shares. And Leary is an appointee to the New England Fishery Management Council, which wrote the catch share rules — and helped set up the system so that he and his sector allies would stand to benefit.
That's not only a blatant conflict of interest; indeed, conflicts of interest abound within the council, where Chairman John Pappalardo doubles as CEO of the Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's Association, and his group drew a preferential cod allocation from the council. That little end run is among the wrongdoing targeted in a federal lawsuit filed by Gloucester, New Bedford and a host of fishing interests.
The petition sent out ostensibly by Leary and his Maine-based cohorts is designed to mislead fishermen and congressional officials alike. The same goes for a Gulf Coast-based petition hatched by the regional head of the Environmntal Defense Fnud, who also wants fishermen — notably those propped up by EDF and its allies — to simply sign off and pass it on to their senators.
Fortunately, most fishermen around Gloucester have not fallen for this political scam, and are refusing to sign onto the Sustainable Harvest view.
The realize that NOAA, under the leadership of Lubchenco, has demonstrated time and again that it is not about confronting and dealing with misconduct and corruption. It is about protecting it. It is not about transparency. It is about covering things up.
And it is not about fairness — balancing the needs of an industry with those of the environment. And it is not about jobs. It is about pushing people out of work to further an environmental and economic agenda rooted in flawed science.
Thankfully, the fight against catch shares is gaining steam in Congress: An amendment to the federal budget that would cut off funding to introduce new catch share programs passed 259-159 on Feb. 19, with the support of 51 Democrats. That amendment was cosponsored by Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank.
Now, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican, has said he will vote for the amendment when it reaches the Senate. But his colleague, Sen. John Kerry, won't commit, saying there may be "no viable path for it to become law," suggesting either that the Senate will not pass it or that if it does, Obama may veto it.
The actions of both Both Frank and Brown show that they realize that it's time for action, not more talk. It's time Sen. Kerry recognized that as well — and heeded the voices of the all-too-many real fishermen who're being forced out of the industry.