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June 17, 2010

Editorial: Feds must slam brakes on dangerous NOAA observer program

For all the now-admittedly bad government science that's wreaked havoc on the fishing industry, all the documented criminal law enforcement tactics carried out by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries agents — and even all the signs of special-interest influence on the Obama administration's government fishery policy — NOAA may have hit a new low this week.

For all the damage the agency has already done to fishing families and their businesses, this week's revelations about the ill-conceived and poorly implemented on-board observer program should be the final straw that leads our federal lawmakers and other officials put the clamps on the new Amendment 16 regulatory system once and for all. For it is now no longer a cruel joke — but potentially a life-threatening fishermen's work hazard.

Just a few weeks after the May 1 start of the new commercial fishing year and the new Amendment 16 management system, stories about clueless NOAA observers — brought on board, so to speak, through three provider companies, including one led by longtime NOAA crony Andrew Rosenberg — were already legendary.

Fishermen reported on-board "observers" who spent their monitoring trips seasick, leaning over the side of the boats. Then there was the observer who showed up for a trip with as many as eight suitcases — perhaps thinking she was catching a touring liner out of Cruiseport Gloucester, not climbing aboard a boat from the city's groundfishing fleet.

Those almost — almost — laughable tales took on a much darker tone at NOAA's own fishermen's forum held here Monday night.

When respected local fishermen Joe Orlando and Phil Powell told Amy Van Atten, NOAA's regional observer program coordinator, that "observers" had tinkered with and/or damaged their essential on-board, electronic communication equipment, the observers' status grew from an embarrassing nuisance to truly dangerous safety impediments that simply cannot be allowed to continue.

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