By Richard Gaines
As a first step in rebuilding the fishing industry's trust in federal regulation, Sen. Scott Brown has urged President Obama to fire NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, whom he described as unaccountable and uninterested in the economic survival of fishermen.
Brown made the call in a rally Saturday morning at the Fisherman's Memorial on Stacy Boulevard.
Noting the bronze, iconic Man at the Wheel, Brown — flanked by Sen. Bruce Tarr, Mayor Carolyn Kirk, city councilors and industry leaders from as far away as Rhode Island, said, "I fear with her at the helm, this fisherman here will be the last one standing."
"I encourage the president to do it now," Brown said of dismissing Lubchenco.
NOAA officials over the weekend defended Lubchenco.
"Dr. Lubchenco understands these are extremely difficult times for fishermen and their families," said Justin Kenney, her spokesman.
"She has always sought to be a partner in the success of fishermen, to sustain fishing jobs, to create a profitable and healthy future for fishing communities and to maintain healthy marine fisheries."
To illustrate his point, Kenney recalled that Lubchenco agreed last week to a request by Sen. John Kerry that NOAA pick up for the 2012 fishing cycle the cost of at sea monitors for the groundfishing fleet, estimated by Kerry to be $7.5 million.
The monitoring was required in the new catch share regimen, instituted under the new requirement of the Magnuson-Stevens Act's reauthorization for hard catch limits with penalties.
But the thumbs-down Brown gave Lubchenco here Saturday — before about 100 onlookers — underscored a pre-existing bipartisan judgment against her by Democratic Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank who represent the ports of the Gloucester and New Bedford, respectively.
A third congressman who works closely with Tierney and Frank on fisheries issues and shares their view of Lubchenco as a failure is Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina.
That trio first asked for her removal from office in the summer of 2010. And a fifth thumbs down to Lubchenco has been delivered by New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, with the final straw coming out her appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee, meeting on Oct. 3 in Boston.
Lang, along with Brown, Tierney and Frank described her performance as patronizing and dishonest, after she credited her administration of the fisheries as restorative to the resource and the industry.
Kirk, a Democrat, has taken chosen a different tact — focusing her disappointment on President Obama and urging him to come to Gloucester to see for himself the harm done by administration fisheries policies.
Facing a cenotaph with the names of the more than 5,000 Gloucester fishermen lost at sea over the centuries, the Man at the Wheel — erected in 1923 to celebrate Gloucester's and the U.S. commercial fishing industry's 300th anniversary — made a fitting backdrop for Brown's call.
"Just a few weeks ago, Administrator Lubchenco told us ... in Boston that the fishing industry is on the rebound," Brown said in explaining his decision. "That incredible statement demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the situation in Gloucester, New Bedford and across New England."
He also pointed to her decision to leave the hearing before the last of the witnesses — distinguished academic, marine scientist and critic of Lubchenco policies Brian Rothschild — began testifying as a sign of her disrespect for fishermen.
"I hoped she would stick around to get the real facts from the fishermen and scientists assembled to testify after her," Brown said. "Instead, she left early."
Multiple interim scientific reports on studies of the groundfishery have been issued in recent weeks. They tell of a resource that is rebounding but of a fleet that is shrinking due under Amendment 16.
The studies illustrate that the radical re-engineering of the industry from open competition into an allocated commodities market that trades catch shares seems to lead to domination by a handful of the best capitalized businesses after hyper-consolidation has culled the small boat owners from the industry.
Years in the making, the writing of the amendment was nearly done by the time Obama and Lubchenco came to office in 2009, but the inspiration for catch shares traces to disputed scientific studies by catch share advocates in Lubchenco's circle.
Food & Water Watch, a consumer group that opposes catch shares, has published a study of the 10 catch share programs in the U.S. - less than a quarter of the fisheries — showing massive consolidation and loss of jobs in every catch share system, with the size of the fleets contracting from 30 to more than 90 percent.
Brown called Lubchenco's advocacy for catch shares the "most troubling" aspect of her administration, and noted that the studies show that the catch share management system "is decimating the fleet."
Brown and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, jointly filed a bill earlier this month that would shut down catch share systems when at least 15 percent of the participating fishermen are sidelined in the first year of the regimen.
Also, an amendment filed by North Carolina Congressman Jones and supported by Tierney and Frank to ban funding for any launch of new catch share systems through this November passed Congress earlier this year — winning in the House by 100 votes. That vote came despite intense lobbying by the Environmental Defense Fund and a minority of fishing interests that have benefited from the consolidation or grants from EDF-influenced foundations.
Both sides are preparing for another fight over the refiled Jones amendment.
The battle could begin at anytime contingent on the appearance of a host spending bill.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.