So, It sounds like the Obama administration's Commerce Department is finally doing more than offering a perfunctory hearing to the over-regulated and abused fishermen of Gloucester and other New England communities.
After all, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced last week that there might be an emergency increase allowed in some groundfishing stocks for the current year.
And Locke — who, at long last, has seemingly taken the feds' fishing leadership tools out of the stonewalling hands of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco — has delivered other good news over the past three weeks.
Last week's commitment also promises to put some $15 million behind new science aimed at better counting the ocean's fish — presumably including the SONAR-related system backed by U.S. Sen. John Kerry and others, yet a system Lubchenco and other tunnel-visioned anti-fishing "scientists" have declined to support.
And the president's Commerce chief — really Lubchenco's superior, though he embarrassingly stood by her lack of any response and respect to and for the likes of Congressmen Barney Frank, John Tierney and others who requested similar changes earlier this year — vowed late last month to revisit NOAA's excessive enforcement against fishermen and related businesses in past cases. That was an open slap to Lubchenco's chief NOAA legal counsel, Lois Schiffer, whose position to not revisit and right past NOAA wrongs had stood as an affront not only to the fishing industry and its backers, but to any sense of American justice.
Yet, despite all of these looming gains for fishermen, it would be very premature for fishermen to start popping champagne corks.
The truth is, we only hope that this is more than just politics — a grab for some more votes for Democrats in the looming midterm elections on Nov. 2. And there are too many very good reasons to be both skeptical and suspicious of Locke's and the Obama administration's change of heart.
At a closer look, Locke has not absolutely promised anything of substance. His announcement is filled with qualifiers.
"I am prepared to issue an emergency regulation to revise catch limits whenever there is both sufficient economic and sound scientific data available to meet those requirements," he wrote.
And where are those data going to come from? While using very polite language, he puts the burden of providing evidence for justifying any change — both economic and scientific — on those who are seeking that change.
"You have graciously offered to provide scientific and economic information that could support the exercise of the emergency rule authority in response to the current situation in New England," he wrote.
That information should not be difficult to find. Indeed, the figures reported by the Times this summer showing that — even with the tight catch limits and Lubcheno's beloved, investment-oriented catch share management system in place — fishermen have ventured out and landed only a minimal percentage of their catch allocations out of fear of busting their annual limits just 4-5 months into the fishing year.
But NOAA, of course, has not documented any such emergency to date — not surprising, given the agency's laughable scientific data has been so skewed that Locke and others already had to boost the pollock limit a mere 600 percent in August.
And it's frighteningly easy to imagine — once the elections are past — federal officials deciding the industry and fishing communities could not show the case for these latest considerations.
To that end, Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who traveled to New Bedford for last week's announcement, said she and those in the industry are indeed ready to take on the task of providing the economic evidence, including information on job and income losses and the decline in the value of assets due to the regulatory squeeze.
Gov. Patrick said he, too, would use state resources, including the University of Massachusetts, to help make the scientific case.
But, of course, it is Locke who will decide how compelling and convincing that evidence is.
Promises are nice, Mr. Secretary. But given your administration's and department's handling of these issues to date, we'll wait until we see these hard-and-fast revisions before we celebrate any changes — knowing, of course, that all of what you're offering should have come a long time ago.