Six months ago, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco promised a quick decision on Gov. Deval Patrick’s formal filing for a fisheries failure and disaster declaration based on statutory and regulatory policies including the transformation of the Northeast groundfishery into a commodities market that trades in catch shares.
The fishing industry is still waiting.
Evidence of her still-unfulfilled commitment — neither she nor the Secretary of Commerce have approved nor disapproved the request, even as NOAA’s own statistics point to a hyper-consolidation in the industry -- is contained in a Feb. 9 letter to Lubchenco from Richard K. Sullivan Jr., Patrick’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, who has served as the state administration’s contact with NOAA.
Released to the Times last week by Sullivan, his letter was answering a Jan. 30 letter from Lubcheno to the governor.
”We are still evaluating your previous request (for a disaster declaration) and expect to have an answer soon,” Lubchenco had written.
Patrick filed his disaster declaration request in November 2011, backing it up with two then-new socio-economic studies as evidence that “federal regulations and management policies have caused a significant consolidation of the groundfish fleet, loss of jobs and reduced revenues — all of which have combined to create a fisheries resource disaster.”
“Finally,” Sullivan wrote to Lubchenco, “I’m thankful that you have committed to act on the governor’s pending disaster request in the near future and that you are continuing to evaluate whether additional economic assistance, including an expanded fishery disaster declaration is warranted due to the cod assessment.”
In a telephone interview, Sullivan said that since then, “We have on a very regular basis, more than once or twice a month, had conference calls with (the) Commerce (Department),” the parent agency to Lubchenco’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But all of the calls have been to no avail.
“It is absolutely fair to say it has taken longer than it should have taken,” Sullivan added.
Lubchenco did not respond to emails from the Times Monday seeking a response or explanation.
Lubchenco has repeatedly declined to respond to queries about her failure to take action on the disaster declaration, even as the hurdles for maintaining a active recreational and commercial Northeast fishing industry have continued to mount.
The latest, out last week, were preliminary estimates of cuts in 2013 fishing year catch limits that range from 72 to 45 percent, compared to the current year — enough to further accelerate consolidation, if not the collapse, the Massachusetts fleet, with an attendant rupture of jobs.
Lubchenco’s lack of action also flies in the face of a promise she made while a witness before the Senate Commerce Committee, during a fact-finding session in Boston organized last October by Sen. John Kerry.
At a press conference he held last Friday in Boston, Kerry said further delays could bring him to share the opinion of Sen. Scott Brown, and Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank that Lubchenco needs to be replaced. Tierney’s district includes Cape Ann, while Frank’s includes New Bedford.
“If we don’t get a response at this point in time, I’ll have further comment on that,” Kerry said.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.