, Gloucester, MA


March 25, 2009

New NOAA chief's first steps seem in right direction

It's not at all certain that the fishing industry has a friend, or even a real open mind, in Jane Lubchenco, President Obama's choice to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But there is certainly every reason for at least cautious optimism, based both on what Lubchenco has and hasn't done during her first week as the new chief of NOAA and its National Marine Fisheries Service.

Lubchenco, whose appointment to head the agency that oversees commercial fishing was confirmed late last week, has spent her first few days on the job listening to those on all sides of the hotly disputed, one-year Interim Rule for the region's commercial groundfishing industry.

The rule is scheduled to take effect May 1, the beginning of the fishing year. If it is not modified, it would eliminate all but hook fishing along the entire southern coast of New England, and would further limit fishermen's permitted Days at Sea — in short, put even tighter restrictions on an industry already on the brink of being regulated out of business by an agency that seems committed to forcing fishermen out of business.

Lubchenco, who met separately with those representing fishing interests and with environmentalists, told Times reporter Richard Gaines that, while she intended to move "relatively rapidly," on the Interim Rule, "We have made no decision yet."

Those who fear the impact of such draconian restrictions have reason to be concerned about Lubchenco's nomination and appointment. While she is seen as qualified — she is a marine biologist and a professor at Oregon State University — there is also plenty of evidence that she is an environmental ideologue.

She has close ties to the Pew Charitable Trust, a multi-billion dollar philanthropy with a focus on ending what it views as "overfishing." Indeed, during her confirmation hearing, Lubchenco spoke in favor of "no-fish" zones like the one proposed for the waters off southern New England through the Interim Rule.

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