, Gloucester, MA

August 20, 2012

Editorial: An independent probe of NOAA enforcement? It's none too soon

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — If there is any transparency to be found in what President Obama promised would be “the most transparent administration in history,” it must be somewhere other than the U.S. Department of Commerce and the agencies it oversees — most notably the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It is long since obvious that those bureaucracies are more interested in protecting one another than the public. And what should get the attention of the region’s voters as the autumn elections loom is that their elected representatives in Congress have little interest in holding either Commerce or NOAA accountable. They have members of their staffs write the obligatory complaint or demand letters, but little else.

If fishermen, their families and advocates are to have any hope of being treated fairly, they must demand that probes of misconduct within NOAA no longer be conducted internally. It is past time for independent, outside investigations.

Yes, U,S. Sens. John Kerry, Scott Brown and other federal lawmakers stepped up their pressure last week for fisheries’ disaster aid, by — at long last — literally taking their case to President Obama. Yet, let’s not forget that the reasons for this disaster is the NOAA’s and Commerce’s own making, through NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco’s catch share management policies, and through NOAA’s documented, escessive enforcement actions. And let’s not forget that, for all thge bureaucratic steps forward last week, the release of Commerce’s second report on NOAA’s wrongdoing against the fishing industry is long overdue.

The findings, by Special Master Charles B. Swartwood III regarding NOAA’s fishing enforcement tactics, were completed in early May. They are said to be detailed, numerous and explosive. But that report remains hidden from the public. Both John Bryson, who resigned after his now-infamous June hit-and-run escapades in southern California, and acting Secretary Rebecca Blank have ignored multiple calls to make the latest report public. And so NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, whose shown nothing but contempt for Congress and any other oversight since 2009, when she took the reins of an agency that is even more dysfunctional now than it ever was then.

The Obama White House is not about to do or say anything about an enforcement and policy regime, based on dubious stock assessments, that is killing jobs.

While U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, along with Congressman John Tierney have all written letters to Commerce requesting the release of Swartwood’s report, it ends there. As we noted previously, it’s not even talk at this point — it is all correspondence and no action.

Given all this, there is no longer any credibility in having Commerce’s inspector general and his special investigator carry out these probes. The only way to make any process and probe believable will be to commission an independent prosecutor to look into both thuggish, distorted enforcement and the manner in which NOAA has set up its regulatory policies, unduly influenced by corporately backed nonprofits with much to gain by controlling the fisheries.

Real jobs and real livelihoods are at stake here. And supposedly, that is what those on both sides of the political aisle say they care about.

But they must show it now not by another round of letters flying around Washington and NOAA’s Silver Spring, Md., headquarters.

It is time — past time — to commission a independent prosecutor to look into these wrongs that are killing jobs, an entire industry, and — for many in Gloucester and elsewhere — a way of life.