MRAG Americas, the environmental services firm headed by Andrew Rosenberg, who helped Jane Lubchenco write the nation's catch share policy as vice-chair of the Environmental Defense Fund board before she became head of NOAA, prematurely announced winning a contract to provide monitors on groundfishing boats when the policy comes to the groundfishery, a federal contract officer said Tuesday.
Although the award and probable sharing of a contract worth at least $6.5 million in New England's first year under the catch share program remains to be made, MRAG Americas had posted on its Web site Monday that it had been chosen by Lubchenco's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and had a contract.
"MRAG Americas is contracted to provide sector and dockside monitors for sectors within the New England multispecies groundfish fishery," the company announced on its Web site.
The Web notice "was somewhat misleading," Marion Veber, the contract officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Tuesday. Veber said she had placed a call to MRAG, and was going to "ask them to clear it up."
Calls by the Times to MRAG's Essex office were referred to the Florida office and Vice President Robert J. Trumble.
On Monday, Trumble told the Times the Web site had announced the awarding of the contract because the company had been notified it had been chosen to provide on-board monitors for the catch-share regulatory program, which is set to debut in New England May 1.
Tuesday afternoon, he said, "We are being considered for an award, we're on the short list, but we have no contract. We have to wait for the protest period to end. We're waiting."
Veber said no contract could be awarded until after the finalists, three of four original qualifiers, including MRAG, had five days to challenge the corporate size of fellow applicants. Companies that are too large for the criteria of the award could be eliminated. The challenge period ends today.
Although the applications were confidential, MRAG is the largest of the three companies selected as finalists, potential sharers of the total award. The $6.5 million NOAA subsidy would be divided in proportion to the number of observer trips each of the contractors makes with the fleet.
MRAG — with offices in Essex, St. Petersburg, Fla., Capitola, Calif., and Anchorage, Alaska, has been able to win more than $10.6 million in mostly NOAA contracts over the past 10 years, the majority in Hawaii, according to the Web site, federalspending.org.
One of the other finalists, A.I.S. Inc. of New Bedford, was reported to have had one contract with $8,297; the other finalist, East West Technical Services of New Britain, Conn., had no federal contracts. Eliminated from the competition was Saltwater Inc., an Anchorage firm with East Coast experience.
Catch shares long have been EDF's policy goal, despite fierce opposition on all three coasts from many fishermen who argue the approach is largely a means of shifting and consolidating equity in fisheries. The infusion of investment capital tends to replace the large number of small, owner-on-board businesses with a small number of highly capitalized corporations.
A congressional subcommittee of the House Natural Affairs Committee resumes hearings on the Obama administration's catch share policy Thursday.
A former regional director with NOAA fisheries in Gloucester, Rosenberg helped build a formidable academic center for ocean studies at the University of New Hampshire and co-wrote scientific papers with Lubchenco while she was at Oregon State University.
MRAG recently had a contract with EDF to write its catch share handbook. In defending her plan to shift money from cooperative research to catch shares in her budget — and spend $54 million facilitating the rapid introduction of the program — Lubchenco's 2011 budget states that the scientific evidence for catch shares is "compelling." Yet the only citation was an EDF product.
In 2008, Rosenberg and Lubchenco were among a working group of scientists organized by EDF to create the national catch share program for the Obama administration. The "Oceans of Abundance" report was a footnoted political policy proposal that claimed "recent studies predict the collapse of global fisheries in our lifetime" — by 2048.
The 2003 study in question, by Myers and Worm, was cited as an example of "faith-based fisheries" in a scathing critique three years later by Ray Hilborn, who found an anti-fishing movement, a faith-based acceptance of ideas and a search for data that support these ideas rather than critical and skeptical analysis of the evidence.
Worm didn't help his case by accidentally sending an e-mail to a newspaper admitting he pinpointed the 2048 date to gin up interest in the study.
In 2003, the year of the study by Myers and Worm, Rosenberg was also a guest lecturer at Oregon State with Lubchenco and David Festa. Festa, now an EDF vice president, advised investors at the Milken Institute in Los Angeles last year that catch shares could be expected to produce returns of 400 percent.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org.