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October 3, 2011

Edtorial: AG Coakley's move gives NOAA secrecy priority it deserves

To agency chief Jane Lubchenco and others inside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, how or whether they discipline employees — and how they arrived at those decisions — is obviously nobody's business.

And they are dead wrong.

The fact is, Lubchenco's and NOAA's seeming refusal to seemingly take any significant action against those enforcement agent and prosecutors cited by federal investigators for excessive and wrongful tactics against fishermen and waterfront businesses like the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction is very much the public's business.

To keep people like ousted NOAA police chief Dale Jones, who employed virtually no oversight over a multi-million fund built on the backs of fishermen's fines and forfeitures, is an affront not only to fishermen, but to every American taxpayer and to the state and federal lawmakers calling for answers.

In that vein, state Attorney General Martha Coakley has every right to demand — not request, demand — NOAA turn over all documents showing the decision-making that went into keeping the likes of Jones, former Gloucester-based agent Andy Cohen, chief counsel Lois Schiffer and prosecutors Deirdre Casey, Chuck Juliand and Mitch MacDonald on the taxpayers' payroll.

Indeed, Coakley would be justified in warning that a continued refusal to do would be tantamount to an obstruction of justice on a par with Jones' infamous document-shredding party that was carried out as the Commerce Department's Inspector General's Office was diving deep into a probe of the level of wrongdoing that has come to define NOAA's entire, corrupt enforcement organization.

Only time will tell when or even whether NOAA will answer Coakley's demands.

Indeed, Lubchenco, to date, has shown nothing but contempt for Congress, from ignoring calls and even legislative budget amendments calling for an end to funding any expansion of catch shares. to predictably exiting Monday's Senate subcommittee hearing before even listening to the presentation from acclaimed marine and fishery scientist Brian Rothschild (See news story, Page 1). And she continues to be allowed to run NOAA as if it were her private company — actually, not too big a stretch considering its fishery policy is built on the agenda pushed by the nonprofit giant Environmental Defense Fund and its corporate "partners," from BP to Wal-Mart.

But Coakley's push to bring these documents and NOAA's decision making to light finally brings the federal government's assault in the commercial fishing industry into the criminal realm.

It's about time — because that's where it belongs.

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