By all counts, new U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren seemed genuinely moved by the financial horror stories she heard here last week from Gloucester fishermen facing ruin under the dire new catch limits and other rules imposed upon them by their own federal government.
And she seem committed to trying to fix the problem, notably by vowing to get NOAA to ease off an absurd proposal to sock fishermen — already facing a 77 percent cut in their allowable catch of Gulf of Maine cod, a longtime staple of the New England seafood market — with a share of the feds’ cost of supplying on-board monitors.
So with the hopes of fishermen in mind, retired Congressman Barney Frank — a political mentor of Warren’s — said he would offer to help her carry out her commitment to help the state’s and region’s fishing industry by pressing and going with her to the White House to drive home the urgency of the situation to the president. Indeed, Frank noted that the Senate can force the president to hear the industry’s case by holding up confirmation of any top Commerce or NOAA appointment until these dire cuts are erased or other fisheries’ aid addresses the documented “economic disaster” the industry and fishing communities such as Gloucester and New Bedford are facing.
Warren’s reaction? So far, nothing.
The day after Frank extended his offer of assistance — and especially urged Warren to press the case for needed fisheries relief while the Senate has some leverage to do so — Warren’s office noted that the senator “appreciated the opportunity to meet with fishermen, family members, local small business owners, and advocates earlier this week in Gloucester and New Bedford to talk about the future of the New England fishing industry.”
And Bruno Freitas, a senior advisor to Warren who, for many years, served as Frank’s fisheries advisor, added that “Sen. Warren will use the tools she has available to provide them the help they need.”
Left unsaid, however, is that the fishermen and lawmakers fighting for them are out of tools, and out of options. Standing on a 2010 federal court ruling that leaves interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act up to NOAA, and given the disputed and unvetted stand by NOAA Northeast Regional Administrator John Bullard and general counsel Lois Schiffer that he cannot and will not extend the current interim limits with cuts of a mere 2 percent for another year, there seems no timely means of halting this virtual shutdown of the Northeast groundfishery short of getting an executive order from the White House to put these new cutbacks on hold.
The time for rhetoric is over. If Warren is serious about helping fishermen, she needs to take Frank’s lead and press the White House for relief — now, before it’s too late.