Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, NOAA chief administrator Jane Lubchenco and their comrades past and present at the good ol' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Defense probably expected fishermen out of Gloucester and other New England and Northeast ports to be singing their praises and sending notes of thanks this week.
And they probably hoped Locke's announcement of an increase in the catch limits for several fish stocks would be greeted with relief among the Massachusetts congressional lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick — hoping that perhaps they'd back off as Locke coddles up to key Senate committee chair John Kerry in advance of expected confirmation hearings for Locke's nomination as ambassador to China.
Well, they'd better not.
As noted in today's Page 1 story — first reported by the Times' Richard Gaines yesterday on gloucestertimes.com — these supposed allocation "increases" are nothing more than what was promised to fishermen in 2009, when the New England Fishery Management Council rammed through its notorious Amendment 16 and its job-killing catch share system.
Beyond that, the bogus increases largely cover stocks in which New England's fishermen, thanks to other mandates tied to the catch share format, have not even been able to land their total allowable catch in the current fishing year. And then — as if to pull off just one more snide, cruel joke — the few stock reductions Locke noted in his grand announcement won't bring any overall increase in fishermen's allocations at all.
Based on figures provided by NOAA's Gloucester-based Northeast regional office, the industry will be allowed to catch just 76,330 metric tons of mixed groundfish in the coming year, compared to the 84,106 metric tons allowed in the current year — a drop of some 9 percent.
Why? Because, while limits on 17 stocks will be marginally higher, the cut in haddock was 24.4 percent — from 41,265 metric tons to 31,627 metric tons — and the cut in pollock was 16 percent, from 16,553 metric tons to 13,952, more than offsetting any gains elsewhere.
On the surface — if these allocations are allowed to stand — all of this adds up one more unjustified cut in fishermen's ability to make a living. Just beneath the surface, however, Locke's announcement looms as much worse.
Indeed, it should stand as a final piece of testimony to Kerry and Scott Brown, their Senate colleagues, and to congressman like Barney Frank, John Tierney and North Carolina Republican Walter Jones and their House mates just how low Locke, Lubchenco, NOAA and the Department of Commerce will go to blatantly deceive lawmakers, fishermen and indeed the American people to press on with Lubchenco's Environmental Defense Fund-fueled agenda.
Surprised? Disappointed? Don't be. The scariest part of all this is, it's nothing new.
With their beloved catch share system now under fire in enlightened fishing communities on all three U.S. coasts, EDF, Lubchenco — and by extension Locke, who, as Frank himself has noted, will not stand up to Lubchenco and her tunnel-visioned, corporate-backed polices — have been pulling out all the stops.
And they've kicked any last shreds of government honesty, credibility and respect to the sidelines.
If our federal lawmakers want to truly help the fishing industry, here are three basic steps:
Stand by the so-called (Walter) Jones Amendment, which cleared the House as part of the budget and cuts off funding for expanding any NOAA catch share efforts.
Support Sen. Brown's FISH (Fishery Impact Statement Honesty) Act, which demands government accountability to fishing communities.
Assign, once and for all, an independent prosecutor to give Lubchenco, Locke and NOAA's regulators and law enforcement henchmen the attention they all truly deserve.
Now, that would be something to sing about, praise — and celebrate.