By most counts, the worst distrust between fishermen and the federal officials who regulate them rests right here in New England.
And that means that distrust and animosity — understandable, considering the job-killing policies NOAA has put in place under national chief administrator Jane Lubchenco, and the enforcement excesses documented by the Department of Commerce’s own inspector general — is especially focused on Gloucester, where NOAA oversees fisheries from Maine to the Carolinas from its Northeast headquarters in Blackburn Industrial Park.
Yet, as noted in Richard Gaines’ Page 1 Thursday story, there is a new sense of optimism that those gulfs of distrust might be bridged through the presence of a new regional administrator who met with local NOAA personnel on Wednesday, and is slated to take the agency’s regional reins on Monday.
John Bullard steps into a difficult position, leading an increasingly dysfunctional NOAA agency in perhaps its most volatile region. Yet, it’s encouraging to hear him say that’s he comes with “no marching orders” from the tunnel-visioned and accountability-challenged Lubchenco, who seems intent on driving independent fishermen and small businesses out of the industry, and who had a hard-line foil in Bullard’s predecessor, former regional chief Patricia Kurkul.
There are already signs that Bullard is different. He has hands-on experience working with commercial fisherman, gleaned during his tenure as mayor of New Bedford from 1986 through 1991. And he clearly knows the issues they have faced in the past, and the ones they confront today, with new fishery management statistics (see news story, Page 1).
Can he throw out the controversial catch share system, and unilaterally toss aside NOAA’s shaky science data that’s been used in the past to establish absurdly low catch levels that have driven may fishermen out of business? No. Remember, he’s the regional administrator, not Lubchenco’s national successor.
But we share the hopes of Brian Rothschild, professor of marine science at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, who has also dealt with Bullard in the past and says the industry and its backers “are looking forward to John being a breath of fresh air.”
To that end, we welcome Mr. Bullard to Gloucester, we wish him the best — and extend the hope that he will indeed work with Gloucester’s and New England’s fishermen, not against them, as has happened in the past.