On the surface, there seems some context to a fishermen’s petition calling for NOAA to shut down its Northeast regional headquarters in Gloucester and use the estimated $15 million paid into those 200 or so salaries to provide relief for the Northeast groundfishery’s “economic disaster.”
After all, given the NOAA actions that have already forced 30 percent of Gloucester’s groundfishing fleet off the water and the devastating prospects of the agency’s declared 77 percent cut in Gulf of Maine limits for the coming fishing year, there will be no need for most of the enforcement personnel, who will have no one left to police. And NOAA and the Department of Commerce must be held accountable for providing financial relief to fishermen caught up in the disaster that Commerce Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank declared last September.
But even steering the entire $15 million Gloucester payroll into fisheries aid would simply be a drop in the bucket, considering that the industry should be getting 30 percent of the seafood import tariffs under the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act — only to see that cash, pegged at more than $124 million in the last fiscal year, poured instead into NOAA operations. And with the industry facing an urgent need for real solutions, the petition comes across as little more than a distraction — a vindictive one at that — from the need to address real issues.
Fishermen and their backers would do much better to challenge first the shaky science and assessment study that has yielded data forcing a virtual shutdown, without a single rank-and-file fisherman having any role in gathering or evaluating the data. And they must challenge the adamant and arrogant stand by NOAA regional chief John Bullard and general counsel Lois Schiffer, who claim — in contrast to federal lawmakers, industry officials and even the New England Fishery Management Council – they are somehow blocked from extending the current, interim 22 percent cod cut limits for another year.
Those are the questions the industry needs answered. And time is running out.