, Gloucester, MA

May 21, 2013

Editorial: Naive fishing 'bridge' plan wrongly lets NOAA off hook

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — On one level, the idea of seeking a “bridge” plan” as Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk calls it, as a transition toward a new future for the city’s waterfront is a good idea, just as it would be for any other fishing community.

Even if the current federally-created quota crisis is resolved, no one expects the commercial fishing industry to return to what it had once been. And it is indeed important for city and business leaders to explore alternative opportunities for marine industrial use.

But the idea of “redeploying” shut down fishing vessels for research, and a hope of “working with” NOAA leaders on that and other projects comes across as so naive that it’s virtually insulting to both fishermen and state and federal lawmakers who have pursued cooperative research with NOAA for years and basically told to take a hike.

And that naivete is topped by city waterfront development director Sarah Garcia’s embarrassing comment that “before, it was characterized as handouts to fishermen; this is different, this is investing in a new marine environment.”

If Garcia or the mayor had truly been paying attention, they would know this has virtually never about “handouts to fishermen.” While lawmakers had sought aid for the industry — a perfectly logical presumption considering the Department of Commerce has declared the Northeast groundfishery a recognized “economic disaster” — the core issues have revolved around shaky NOAA science that led to the call to cut commercial limits, and the fact that NOAA’s regulatory and enforcement actions have created this economic calamity by wrongly preventing fishermen from earning a living.

From the start, fishermen haven’t sought handouts — they only want to be able to fish for a living, but their own government is denying them the ability to do so under a three-year old management system wrongly thrust upon them by their own government.

At its core, Kirk’s and Garcia’s “bridge plan” comes across as a surrender and a sense of resignation that NOAA and Commerce are not going to adhere to any of the industry’s or lawmakers’ requests. And those requests merely just call for the government to follow its own federal laws – including a long-ignored provision of the Magnuson-Stevens Act that requires NOAA and its regional councils to weigh the impact of regulations on fishing communities, and the 1954 Kennedy-Saltonstall Act, which mandates that a percentage of money raised on seafood import tariffs go to boost and promote the industry, not NOAA’s own bloated budget.

Kirk’s proposal seems to be reaching out toward a new cooperative spirit between the city and a rogue federal agency that has been allowed a free hand without any accountability to the fishing industry or to American taxpayers.

But the mayor and other city officials should be well aware that NOAA officials have shown no interest whatsoever in cooperating on anything.

The demise of this historic industry — at the federal government’s own hand — is no time to strike up a few chords of “Kumbaya.” Let’s hope the mayor has second thoughts — and tosses this “bridge plan” in the trash bin, where it truly belongs.