The head of an educational nonprofit and advocate for President Obama's controversial order establishing a national policy based on so-called "ocean zoning" is poised to become the new Northeast regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Outside NOAA, stakeholders have come to believe that John Bullard's selection to succeed the retired Patricia Kurkul in the hot seat at the top of the Northeast's regional fisheries pyramid is a fait accompli, but the Times has learned that Bullard has not yet cleared the selection process.
The Times was briefed Wednesday on the selection process by a high NOAA official who was not authorized to speak to the press.
The Northeast regional administrator regulates and enforces the fisheries from Maine to the Carolinas from the agency's regional headquarters in Gloucester's Blackburn industrial Park.
A former New Bedford mayor and member of the Clinton administration, Bullard is president of the Sea Education Foundation, a $14 million, non-government organization that gives approximately 175 college students a year an "at-sea semester" on campus in Woods Hole and aboard one of SEA's two 134-foot sail training vessels, according to the organization's 2010 filing with the Internal Revenue Service in lieu of taxes.
His candidacy was supported in writing by Sen. John Kerry.
The other finalist, George LaPointe, who recently ended a long run as director of marine resources in Maine, was endorsed in writing by a number of political and government officials including New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Frank Guinta; and by Maine Rep. Michael Michaud and former Maine Gov. Angus King.
In the process of picking a successor to Kurkul, who in December ended a tumultuous term lasting more than a decade as Regional administrator for the Northeast, NOAA solicited stakeholder input for the first time.
NOAA released letters acknowledging endorsements in writing of Bullard and LaPointe, but declined to release the actual recommendations; the Times was advised, however, that the letters could be released only via the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
In a 2008 lengthy interview with the Massachusetts Ocean Coalition — a collaborative of the Ocean Conservancy, Conservation Law Foundation and MassAubuon Society — Bullard spoke at length about the benefits of marine spatial planning or "ocean zoning" based on his experience as a mayor and member of the governor's Ocean Advisory Commission, which helped formulate the Massachusetts Ocean Plan. That outline served as something of a prototype for the U.S. Ocean Policy created as an executive order issued by President Obama in 2010.
"The (ocean zoning) term may not work for everyone," Bullard said at the time, "but in my eyes, that is what we are talking about."
After many members of Congress took umbrage at what was perceived as executive overreach in the planning for casting a bureaucratic net over the federal band of ocean 200 miles out from the three-mile state lines, the White House became sensitive to the image of ocean zoning.
Last fall, in hearings by the House Natural Resources Committee chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, Hastings questioned the president's legal authority to establish an oceans policy with rules akin to zoning by executive order. Bills targeting the same goal have been non-starters in recent years.
Bullard was a witness at an October hearing of Hastings committee on the President's Ocean Policy. There, he eased away from the language of municipal land use, in commenting about how Massachusetts and Rhode Island wrote their ocean policies in ways that didn't resemble zoning.
"Neither Rhode Island nor Massachusetts attempted to develop ocean zoning schemes that divvy up all the ocean space for particular activities," he said. "Ocean planning efforts do not necessarily equate to ocean zoning."
In a telephone interview Wednesday, he shrugged at the distinction.
"Marine spatial planning?" he said. "As a mayor, I never thought zoning as a controversial subject and anti-business."
In his interview with the coalition of green groups, Bullard emphasized that all stakeholders shared the same desire to ensure a stabile ocean ecosystem.
"There are many stakeholders involved in this process, including those who speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, such as natural resources and inhabitants of the oceans," he said. "I know those interests are well represented by the Massachusetts Ocean Coalition, MassAubudon, Conservation Law Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and numerous others ... No one wants to drain the oceans of its resources, no matter who you are or what you represent."
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.