, Gloucester, MA

February 22, 2013

Editorial: Executive order is best route to halt fishing atrocity

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — NOAA Northeast Regional Administrator John Bullard may be right; the Obama White House may well have “other priorities” than to worry about the plight of fishermen — especially when 400,000 or so military personnel might be displaced due to spending cuts forced by a second round of our resurrected fiscal cliff.

In fact, the White House, its Department of Commerce, and its rogue National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under Jane Lubchenco have shown consistently that they don’t give a hoot about this historic industry of mostly small, independent businesses now on the verge of going the way of so many family farms over the last three decades.

Remember 2009, when Obama proclaimed that some of America’s financial institutions were “too big to fail?” Well, his silence on fisheries has long shown that this president believes the fishing industry is small enough to collapse completely — so much so that his own Commerce Department and NOAA have been allowed to do all they can to hasten its demise.

Yet it would be interesting to hear Obama’s take on Bullard’s virtual scoffing at fishermen’s pledge to take their case for aid and regulatory relief to The White House. For in essentially claiming the president and his top advisers can’t be bothered, Bullard — a former New Bedford mayor who should know better — is also willing to let pass the fact that Commerce recognizes the Northeast fishery as an “economic disaster,” yet sees no reason to take a single step to address it.

Thankfully, Gloucester’s former mayor, John Bell, does know better. As a founder and current board chairman of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, Bell recognizes that, with the clock ticking on a virtual shutdown of Gloucester’s and New England’s cod fishery, the best practical means of seeking relief is through seeking an executive order to put these industry-killing cuts on hold until they can be adjusted or documented through credible, cooperative science.

Bullard’s decree that he can’t extend a second interim year of the current 22 percent catch limit hasn’t been vetted through any court assessing the Magnuson-Stevens Act. It’s based on an opinion from NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer — the same Lois Schiffer who didn’t want to revisit past cases of NOAA enforcement injustice until her own Commerce Secretary tossed that pearl of legal wisdom in the trash and ordered the government to pay fishermen more than $600,000 in reparations.

That is not the kind of legal rock in which our own federal government should be able to kill America’s fresh seafood industry. Yet that’s a step the likes of Bullard, Schiffer and the exiting Lubchenco are about to take.

An executive order stopping their march is very much in order.