By Richard Gaines
---- — On fisheries, the differences between Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, candidates for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by John Kerry in late January, were exposed in a dramatic vote by the House in February 2011.
A short-lived bipartisan coalition that night glued onto a continuing budget resolution an amendment from North Carolina Republican Walter Jones that barred the Obama administration from expanding its signature fishing industry innovation — the creation of new catch share fisheries and their commodity quote trading markets — beyond the mix of the Northeast groundfishery that, now three years into the new system, is in a recognized state of economic disaster.
When the roll call on the Jones amendment was completed that morning — at 1:44 a.m. — Markey of Malden, a member since 1976, the dean of the delegation, was with the White House, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and the array of investor, economic and commercial interests behind the Environmental Defense Fund that had lobbied and campaigned for catch shares throughout the second Bush presidency until they succeeded under Barack Obama in 2009.
But on this night, through the efforts of Congressmen Barney Frank and John Tierney as co-sponsors of the Jones amendment — and with only Markey and a retired representative from state’s western-most district holding out against the rest of the 10 member delegation — the anti-catch share insurgency carried the House 259-159. Frank, Tierney, Lynch and five other members of the delegation were among 51 Democrats that made up the rare, winning bipartisan coalition.
“I have a very difficult time with catch shares,” said Lynch, who campaigned in Gloucester last Saturday, accompanied by his guide, former city councilor Christine Rasmussen. ““They favor multi-national economic fishing interests at the expense of the small family fisherman, and are largely driven by ideology,” he added in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Markey has not yet campaigned on Cape Ann. The primaries are on April 30, with the winner of the Democratic primary facing the winner of a three way Republican contest in the general election on June 25.
Lynch represents the port of Boston and smaller fishing ports to its south, and said the Senate needs an advocate for small business, which is being ground down by wealthy and powerful interests.
“My amendment was a bipartisan effort to block NOAA’s zealous rush to jam catch share programs down the throats of fishermen who vehemently opposed them,” Jones recalled in an email to the Times. “If a federal agency is doing everything in its power to put people in your community out of business, as an elected official, you’ve got to fight back.
“It was clear to me, to Congressman Frank, and to others, that the agency had no intention of reconsidering its catch shares agenda, so we had no choice but to prevent them from continuing to use taxpayer money to destroy more jobs and increase unemployment.”
Markey’s office says he opposed the Jones amendment because of his concern for congressional meddling with the planning for catch share programs by NOAA and its regional fishery councils.
Representing a district that reaches the Atlantic at Winthrop and Revere, Markey has attempted to establish his credentials as a friend of the fisherman by joining Tierney, Lunch and others in the New England congressional delegation behind legislation to restore the dedicated revenue stream from seafood import tariffs created in 1954 — now, about $100 million a year — that has been diverted by Congress into NOAA’s operating budget. He has also taken the lead in the campaign for truth in packaging seafood, which has become a troubling form of consumer fraud as imported seafood has grown to create a $10 billion trade deficit.
But even Frank, who has endorsed Markey over Lynch in the Democratic primary, volunteered readily Tuesday that “Ed has been very strongly with the environmentalists, and you know how irresponsible the environmentalists are.”
Those environmentalists, continued Frank, who retired at the end of the last Congress, have demonized fishermen, helping to encourage the inaction of the White House which has remained on the sidelines during the past six months of failed efforts to generate an appropriation in response to the disaster declaration by the acting commerce secretary.
But Frank said there are many other issues than fisheries, and overall, he found his old friend Markey closer to his approach to government.
“Steve is just more conservative than I am,” said Frank, citing military spending, where Frank favors extreme cutbacks.
For his part, Markey said in an email that “the tradition of Massachusetts fishing communities must be protected for future generations, and fishermen need help now.”
“That’s why I have fought hard for fishing disaster relief (and) battled against foreign seafood fraud that undercuts our fishermen,” he said.
But Markey also has opposed weakening the mix of mandates for 10-year rebuilding regimens for distressed stocks and hard catch limits with penalties for violations. These additions to the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1996 and 2006 have been interpreted by NOAA to require 77 per cent cuts in Gulf of Maine cod and reductions nearly across the board that threaten to disable if not destroy the groundfishing industry beginning in May when the harsh catch limits take effect. He has opposed the call for more flexibility in the Magnuson Act.
The clash over flexibility pits the administration and its green allies with much Tierney, much of the congressional delegation and the fishing industry.
“Time lines can be extended under the current law,” Markey wrote in The Environmental Forum of May/June 2012, “but only in cases where extensions are justified.”
Markey’s office said he believes it was unfortunate that the catch share regimen for the Northeast groundfishery did not include safeguards against consolidation, adding that Markey supports the effort now underway to ensure fleet diversity.
But Vito Giaclone, policy leader of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region’s largest industry group, testified before the Ocean and Fisheries Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee in 2011 that rebuilding time lines should be eliminated completely.
“Our consistent view has been the need to simply eliminate any arbitrary time requirement and replace it with a rebuilding strategy founded on natural population dynamics,” he said in his written testimony.
Rasmussen, a Democratic activist, said she met and came to like, admire and trust Lynch in 1994-95, when she was a researcher. She acknowledges that, on many issues he is more conservative than she is as well, but said he is the candidate “I’m more comfortable with.” She organized a group of about 50 who met with Lynch last Saturday at The Gloucester House.
“He stands for what he believes in, I like him,” said Lenny Linquata, co-owner of the Gloucester House. “I want someone who makes decisions for himself. He’s certainly more refreshing tham Markey, who hasn’t been here since who knows how long?”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.