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February 19, 2013

Fed IG auditing NOAA policies

After issuing a series of investigative reports exposing excessive enforcement on the part of federal fisheries agents, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General has now turned to auditing how NOAA carried out and implemented policies that have transformed fisheries into commodity markets — and are being blamed for job losses and consolidation throughout the industry.

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who has resigned effective at the end of February, was the moving force for the so-called catch share commodification in President Obama’s first term, having promoted it zealously while serving as a board officer with the Environmental Defense Fund.

“The objective of our review,” Andrew Katsaros, assistant inspector general for audits, said in a Feb. 11 memo to Lubchenco, “is to determine the adequacy of controls NOAA has in place to make decisions related to catch share allocations.”

Inspector General Todd Zinser said in a telephone interview Friday that the word “controls” as used is meant to cover the “adequacy of established procedures. “

“It’s a fairly broad objective that will allow the auditors to examine the catch share program as implemented by NOAA,” Zinser said.

A post-2008 election policy paper by Environmental Defense and signed off by Lubchenco — financed primarily by the Walton Family Foundation, rooted in Wal-Mart, promised that converting the wild resources to trade-able catching rights would ensure sustainability and restore profitability to the nation’s fisheries. And EDF vice president David Festa had also predicted that profits of 400 percent were to be had from timely investment in catch shares.

Yet, three years after the Northeast groundfishery was transformed into a catch share system, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank in September declared the fishery, the nation’s oldest commercial industry and one long centered in Gloucester, to have collapsed into a socio-economic “disaster.”

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