, Gloucester, MA

May 2, 2013

Editorial: Don't forsake present in pressing for fishery's dire needs

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — “‘No’ means ‘find another way.’”

With those words on Tuesday, Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk raised an interesting perspective regarding NOAA’s absolutely job-killing — and industry-threatening — cuts in Gulf of Maine cod and other fish stocks for the new commercial fishing year that began Wednesday.

And the mayor’s comment that it was now up to the state and to fishing municipalities to forge policies that can save as much of the groundfishing fleet as possible indeed raises some interesting possibilities, while reflecting the kind of open-minded optimism that Gloucester, other fishing communities and the industry no doubt need.

But the mayor and others looking to carve out a viable solution for waterfront communities anchored to commercial fishing to support their economies would do well to recognize that any such future also demands federal cooperation and aid.

And there has frankly been no sign of any cooperation or accountability on the part of NOAA and the Department of Commerce since the Obama administration first let Jane Lubchenco’s renegade fisheries agency run roughshod over fishermen and their families, state lawmakers, the Inspector General’s Office, congressional representatives and senators. Then there are American taxpayers, who are still paying $150,000 salaries to the likes of former NOAA enforcement chief Dale Jones, who should instead be facing a federal prosecutor’s indictments for allowing a gross misuse of federal dollars on his watch, and then shredding documents even while the Commerce Inspector General’s office was investigating his and others’ actions.

During a waterfront and fisheries forum pulled together last month by former city councilor and harbor activist Valerie Nelson, she and others raised a number of good ideas that hold merit; those include steering NOAA funding into cooperative research projects in which rank-and-file fishermen would earn something while using their essentially now-grounded boats to carry out stock assessments — perhaps even recognizing where the fish might be so as to give NOAA’s flawed scientific efforts some credibility.

Yet that overlooks a key factor. NOAA’s know-it-all science wing has shown no interest whatsoever in welcoming fishermen into their data assessments, ignoring pleas to do so from federal lawmakers up to and including John Kerry before he moved on to the Secretary of State’s post in January.

The simple fact is that NOAA officials — right to the top and credibility-flawed General Counsel Lois Schiffer, while both NOAA and the Department of Commerce embarrassingly flounder without even acting chief administrators — have adopted the mantra of the agency’s bullying agents who, according to documentation, told workers at the former Gloucester Seafood Auction during an unauthorized, 2005 after-hours raid, that they were, in fact, “accountable to no one.” And all the municipal and state ideas in the world will be hard-pressed to break through that mentality until congressional lawmakers stand up and use NOAA and Commerce budgetary cuts and other actions to break up or into the agency itself.

Kirk’s and Nelson’s ideas of pursuing long-term approaches with Northeast Regional administrator John Bullard and other NOAA officials is not wrong; it is an approach that can offer a sign of hope, and that’s something this industry, its families and its communities now need.

But working cooperatively with NOAA is nothing new, either. Consider that 2009 night at Gloucester’s packed City Hall when, during an early fishermen’s rally, Vito Giacalone of the Northeast Seafood Coalition told fellow fishermen that regulatory changes were coming, and they should work toward changes because they’d soon be “driving the bus, or be under it.” Today, after working extensively to try to make the bogus new catch share format viable for fishermen, he and his sectors are under NOAA’s runaway regulatory bus, too.

In looking toward fishing’s long-term future, Mayor Kirk and others may do well to pursue approaches to boost the industry. But let’s take off the rose-colored glasses and not forget the present.

The city and its fishing fleet need fishery regulatory help and change, they need federal economic disaster aid now — and no one should stop pressing or justifiably kicking or screaming until it arrives.