When Gov. Deval Patrick last November submitted his formal call for an economic disaster declaration regarding the state’s commercial groundfishery, he presented a strong case, backed by troubling marine science data researched through the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
Indeed, those numbers – compiled from the first year of fishing under NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco’s beloved, corporately-backed catch share management system – noted that, of 96 groundfishing Gloucester boats of the time, 21 had been forced to the sidelines, all victims of Lubchenco’s job-killing consolidation policies.
The Commerce Department and Lubchenco’s NOAA, of course, have still not granted that declaration. They also haven’t rejected it; in true Lubchenkian form, they’ve shown no commitment to accountability and continue to ignore the governor’s request altogether, save for a Lubchenco letter sent to a governor’s cabinet member vowing an answer “soon.” That was in February.
So it’s perfectly justified for U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown to once again try to step up the pressure for action on the disaster declaration, as they have in a letter sent this week to acting Secretary of Commerce Roberta Blank. And they should get an immediate answer, for this time, Commerce and NOAA have no choice.
Now, there can be no disputing the need for a disaster declaration. And there is no way that Lubchenco or anyone else in charge of regulating America’s fisheries can even question that there is a pending economic calamity threatening the entire groundfishery in the coming months.
That’s because NOAA’s own data and 2013 catch limit projections are making the case on their own, with forecasts for Gulf of Maine cod limit cuts of more than 70 percent, and cuts in the take for other species closely following suit. That, of course, would carry beyond the 22 percent cut already in place for the current year. And all of those would bring the economic disaster for this industry and fishing communities far beyond what Patrick envisioned when he filed his request a full nine months ago.
There is obviously a context to Lubchenco resisting a disaster declaration. That’s because the disaster has indeed been triggered by her own hand.
By all counts, catch shares is driving more independent fishermen out of business. And while the system has worked for the bigger boats and larger corporations — just as Lubchenco and the Environmental Defense Fund and one of its giant donors, the Wal-Mart rooted Walton Foundation, had hoped — their increased landings are also now threatened by the NOAA assessment data.
Indeed, at least one state official has raised the specter that the reported drop in cod stocks — in stark contrast to an encouraging stock assessment just two years earlier — is due in part to larger, offshore trawlers scooping up in-shore cod. And that’s a practice fueled by these companies acquiring additional quota from cash-strapped independent fishermen through the catch shares commodities pipeline.
All of this, of course, really leads to the conclusion that Brown, Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank and others, have already drawn — that Lubchenco’s hopelessly dysfunctional agency and its parent Commerce Department desperately need new leadership.
But Gloucester’s and New England’s fishermen cannot wait for the Obama administration or our federal lawmakers to force Lubchenco out the door.
It’s long past time that Blank and Lubchenco concede catch shares have helped bring about a fisheries failure now bordering on epic proportions.
It’s past time that they issued the disaster declaration, extended federal aid to fishermen, and, most of all, cut to the root of the problem by eliminating the catch share policies that have clearly brought this disaster about.