GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 8, 2010

Kirk backs New Bedford's push for fed fishing probe

By Times Staff

The mayor of the nation's highest dollar-volume seaport has asked for an independent federal investigation of all parties involved with the implementation of fishing regulations, laws and rule-making processes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, its fisheries service and the New England Fisheries Management Council.

And Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Monday night that she, too, supports New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang's call.

In a letter to federal Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser, Lang stated that a "lack of fair play and transparency coupled with use of stale science in the development of fisheries management has caused profound and adverse socio-economic impacts that are crippling fishing communities."

"It is paramount that rules and regulations that impact the livelihood of fishing communities be implemented in an open and transparent manner," Lang wrote. "Such is not the case today and fishing communities are collapsing as a consequence."

The mayor noted that, since the release of the "scathing" January 2010 report by IG Zinser's office on the NOAA General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation and Office of Law Enforcement, it has been discovered that — among other concerns — the Office of General Counsel paid administrative law judges out of Asset Forfeiture Funds, which are drawn from the fines assessed and paid by fishermen, and that fishermen were intimidated into settlements.

The mayor also pointed out that, in defending the General Counsel's Office from the findings of the IG's September 2010 report, "union attorneys revealed that GCEL received "questionable" bonuses in the amount of $44,000 prior to the conclusion of cases.

At least some of those bonuses were paid to Gloucester-based NOAA prosecutor Charles Juliand for pressing and winning heavy fines against fishermen.

The union representing Juliand has told the Times it views the bonus and other kudos granted Juliand as a clear sign he was only carrying out the instructions of higher NOAA officials.

According to Mayor Lang, "there is no reason to believe that the rest of the management system is absent to this abuse of authority."

Lang also accused NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco of having "predetermined agendas" that "appear to be driven by well-funded interest groups, and are outside the open and transparent public process mandated under the Magnuson Stevens Act...."

Lubchenco took over the reins of NOAA in 2009 after serving as vice-chair of the Environmental Defense Fund — the primary backer of catch-share management policies that Lubchenco has conceded will bring a significant consolidation of the New England fleet.

The IG's investigation into NOAA wrongdoing and heavy-handed activities in the enforcement and prosecution of federal regulations was spawned out of Gloucester, and in large part, NOAA's 2005-2009 push to shut down the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction.

Lang's call for a new, independent probe also comes after Lubchenco and NOAA Fisheries chief Eric Schwaab last week announced a push to put catch shares in place as the national policy — despite a lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester, New Bedford, Gloucester-based fisheries attorney Steven Oullette and others challenging Amendment 16, which includes the catch-share format.

Kirk said last night that, in Lang's latest call for a full federal probe, "the city of Gloucester stands with New Bedford."

"During the course of the past year or so, certainly enough questions have been raised of a serious nature that warrants this type of investigation," Kirk added.

In his letter, Lang also described Schwaab's plans to conduct a review of the fishery management process in New England "a clear attempt to avoid an audit by the Inspector General's office" — and argued that "internal audits are far less effective and probative and fail to get to the root of the problem at hand."

Material from the online news service SavingSeafood.com is included in this story.