, Gloucester, MA

February 13, 2013

Editorial: Fed lawmakers must look beyond boat monitor costs

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The news that Congressman John Tierney, six other members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, and five federal lawmakers from Maine and New Hampshire are pressing the acting Commerce secretary to at least continue fully subsidizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s at-sea fishing monitoring costs is good news.

Indeed, NOAA’s insistence — and the declaration by NOAA’s Gloucester’s based Northeast regional administrator John Bullard, who, as former mayor of New Bedord should know better — that a Commerce budgeting shortfall somehow means fishermen must pick up the tab for this sad-sack monitoring project shows just how clueless and truly anti-fishing this rogue agency has become.

As lawmakers step up the pressure to secure NOAA funding for the failing monitors’ program, it’s also important that they not lose sight of a far bigger picture as the new Congress takes its early steps forward regarding ocean policy.

The fact is, the level of competency shown to date by the hired monitors — who, among other incidents, have clumsily disabled or broken captains’ on-board communication equipment and spent entire trips seasick — all suggest this program should be scrapped. And while lawmakers are pushing for action on the boat monitoring program, let’s not for a second forget that:

NOAA and Commerce have not extended a single dime to the fishing industry to address the growing “economic disaster” that Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank declared for the Gloucester, New England and the entire Northeast groundfishery last September.

Even if Congress steers economic aid to the industry from NOAA’s operations costs — as it rightfully should under a bill being filed by Tierney and under that element of the misused and abused 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act — New England’s and America’s fishermen would not be in these economic straits were it not for constricting catch limits built on a foundation of shaky NOAA science and stock assessments.

The same goes for outgoing NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco’s job-destroying catch share management system, which continues to put more quota and control of the industry in the larger corporate hands while forcing more and more smaller independent businesses to fold their nets.

There should be no question that NOAA must fully fund its monitoring program — if it insists on extending this bogus program in the first place. And, yes, our federal lawmakers are right to insist on at least that much.

But they and all of our lawmakers must stay focused on the big picture — that the Northeast groundfishery is in the midst of a worsening economic disaster, and that Commerce and NOAA’s own policies are to blame.

That’s the core issue that still must be addressed.