The confirmation by state Attorney General Martha Coakley that NOAA officials, notably Northeast regional administrator John Bullard, certainly have the authority under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to allow a second year of “interim” catch limits and dramatically ease the agency’s dire, job-killing cuts set to take effect next week should clear up that issue once and for all.
But sadly, Coakley’s finding and her push to have Gov. Deval Patrick press the White House to issue an order to halt NOAA’s anti-industry — and anti-economy — agenda will mean nothing unless an executive order for a second interim year is forthcoming. For it’s clear that Bullard and other Commerce officials cannot possibly believe they’re banned from lifting the industry-crushing catch limit cuts of up to 77 percent; they’re doing it because they want to.
That is the absurdity of this government action that, despite President Obama’s laughable claims of pushing for jobs, is about to throw an entire industry under the proverbial bus despite Commerce’s own recognition that the Northeast groundfishery, much of it rooted in Gloucester, is already in a state of “economic disaster” and only getting worse.
From a legal standpoint alone, Coakley’s finding that Bullard is legally within every right to lift the expected limits and stick with the current year’s cod limits, a 22 percent cut from 2011, and for yellowtail flounder and other species as well. Yet, Bullard is standing by a purported legal brief — one the agency is shielding from the public — from NOAA chief counsel Lois Schiffer, who blindly propped up now-former NOAA administrator chief Jane Lubchenco in the past and whose own legal credibility, based on Commerce actions and findings by the department’s own inspector general’s office, is somewhere at the bottom of the ocean along with the credibility of NOAA science.
To his credit, Gov. Patrick has now added his voice to pressure Commerce and even the president to issue the order this historic industry, its cities, and its largely working-class families needs.
By next week, we’ll find out if this administration really gives a damn.