By Richard Gaines
A $5 billion foundation that has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting the catch share commodification of New England's and other U.S. fisheries has chosen a firm with close ties to NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to evaluate the nation's newest catch share programs.
The commission is to study the effect of the privatization of the New England groundfishery and the Pacific trawl fishery.
In choosing MRAG Americas Inc. to study both the New England program that began in 2010 and the Pacific trawl program that began this year, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation selected a firm headed by Andrew Rosenberg, a Gloucester resident.
A former NOAA Northeast regional administrator out of Gloucester, Rosenberg got his master's degree at Oregon State University while Lubchenco was a faculty luminary and he lists Lubchenco as a reference on his portfolio.
Fishing interests denounced the selection of MRAG Americas as incapable of producing disinterested research on the catch share programs, both of which are hotly disputed and divisive.
But Bob Trumble, MRAG Americas' vice president, said the company had established a record of "objective and scientifically based work."
He said Rosenberg was overseas and unreachable.
Jim Hutchinson, managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, described the Moore Foundation's choice of MRAG Americas to study catch shares as "Astro-Turfing at its best — the D.C. double dip where a firm with direct ties to a government agency is paid to do a study, which promotes a movement that creates more work and increases the firm's net income."
"What good would (the study) be? It's biased," said Tina Jackson, president of the American Alliance of Fishermen and Their Communities. She has been engaged in a bitter struggle with catch share advocates that has recently produced a schism within the New England and national fishing communities.
The MRAG contract calls for evaluating catch shares' five-year effect on fisheries — even though New England fishermen are jus six months into their second year of the format, and the Pacific trawl fishery has just debuted.
Records show that MRAG Americas has received more than $15 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for multiple contracts over the years, and is providing at-sea monitors for boats in sectors or business cooperatives granted catch shares and entree to commodification trading since the system began in New England in May 2010.
An influential marine scientist who had been NOAA's Northeast regional administrator through 1999 before entering academia at University of New Hampshire and private business with MRAG Americas and Conservation International, Rosenberg studied oceanography at Oregon State University where Lubchenco was on the faculty.
In 2005, Rosenberg taught a graduate course with Lubchenco, her brother-in-law Steve Gaines, and David Festa, then the ocean policies director at Environmental Defense Fund.
EDF began a lengthy campaign that year to convince the government to adopt catch share commodification as its fisheries policy.
"The most important element of our strategy," EDF wrote in a 2005 paper described as a funding solicitation, "is to work the regulatory process from the inside, making aggressive use of our hard-won seat on the New England Fishery Management Council."
In addition, the paper — leaked to the Times in 2009 — said that, while working the council process in New England, EDF was empowered by "a strong presence in Washington, D.C." in the person of Festa, who had been policy director to two Commerce secretaries. Festa would bring "top-down support."
The campaign reached a climax with the appointment of Lubchenco, who had been an officer on the board of EDF and had helped promote catch shares by co-writing with Gaines and other like-minded scientists and former politicians a policy paper, "Oceans of Abundance." That paper declared that, unless catch shares were adopted globally, fishermen would denude the oceans — except for jellyfish. The claim has been widely refuted in independent scientific and fishing circles.
But in 2010, EDF commissioned MRAG Americas to write its catch share manual.
The Moore Foundation, based in the San Francisco Bay area, was begun 11 years ago by the family that started and controls Intel Corp.
According to fisheries researcher and consultant Nils Stople, Moore has put more than $100 million into grants to study and alter fisheries policy.
EDF has received more than $30 million in grants including more than $20 million from the Walton (Wal-Mart) Foundation, leading the campaign to convince the Obama administration to privatize the nation's fisheries.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.