GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 17, 2011

NOAA chief's claims seen as 'dishonest'

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

The accuracy and integrity of NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco's testimony to a Senate Commerce Committee earlier this month is being challenged once again — this time by the Cape Ann Fresh Catch, a program of the Gloucester Fisherman's Wives Association.

Cape Ann Fresh Catch Monday challenged as "disingenuous, dishonest and disrespectful to our community's fishing fleet" Lubchenco's written assertion that seemed to credit the catch share/sector groundfishery management regimen for helping to boost the Cape Ann Fresh Catch program.

Lubchenco's credibility in praising catch share fishing was questioned bluntly and repeatedly during the 2 1/2-hour Senate Commerce Committee field hearing, organized by Sen. John Kerry. Sanfilippo attended as an observer.

In questioning, Rep. Barney Frank disputed Lubchenco's written claim that "revenues are up for some but not all fishermen" under the catch share program.

Brian Rothschild, a marine scientist at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, submitted written testimony that challenged all of he essential claims by Lubchenco of a more profitable and efficient groundfishery via catch share sector management.

The Gloucester Fisherman's Wives Association — led by president Angela Sanfilippo, a nationally prominent advocate and strategist for the commercial fishing community — partnered with organizations including the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance in 2008 and 2009 to organize the "fresh catch program. The project, with Turner's Seafood and MIT Sea Grant also as partners, is a community-based business model for direct delivery of fresh seafood to prepaid subscribers which lowers prices and increases margins, bypassing middlemen to the advantage of sellers and buyers.

In her 12 single-spaced pages of testimony and exhibits delivered to a field hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee at the State House on Oct. 3, organized by Sen. John Kerry, Lubchenco cited the Cape Ann Fresh Catch program to illustrate how "New England fishermen are beginning to realize new entrepreneurial opportunities under sector management."

However, in an open letter to the Cape Ann fishing community via the Times, Cape Ann Fresh Catch marketing and communications director Heather Fraelick rebutted Lubchenco's implication of a positive connection between sector fishing and the Fresh Catch program. The full letter is published on the Opinion Page in today's Times.

There was a connection, Fraelick said, but it was negative: The Fresh Catch program, she said, was created to "assist day boat fishermen suffering from fleet consolidation efforts of Dr. Lubchenco's policies.

"The day boat fleet is the heart and soul of our local fishing community," Fraelick wrote. "And to help those fishermen deliver their catch to new markets at a better price is why the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community Supported Fishery was formed.

"Dr. Lubchenco's statements trying to take credit for Community Supported Fisheries benefiting local fishermen was disingenuous, dishonest and disrespectful to all our community's fishing fleet," she wrote.

As an officer with the Environmental Defense Fund and then as President Obama's choice to head NOAA, Lubchenco has aggressively pushed the catch share approach, opening the door to what amounts to the commodities buying, selling and trading of fishermen's "shares" of a government-limited catch — a format that has triggered hyper-consolidation in fisheries around the country.

Gloucester's groundfishing fleet alone lost 21 out of some 95 groundfishing boats under the first year of the new system, organized as Amendment 16 to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, according to a report weeks ago by the NOAA Science Center in Woods Hole.

NOAA communications staffers said that Lubchenco was traveling Monday and hadn't read Fraelick's letter, so she could not respond. After her own testimony, Lubchenco also left the Kerry hearing before opening statements were completed to visit the Boston Globe for an editorial board meeting.

Frank had questioned Lubchenco about her claim in written testimony that catch share revenues were up generally up, and pointed out that a report from NOAA's Science Center in August showed that gross revenues for the first year of catch share groundfishing were actually down by 2 percent.

"Your testimony cherry picks, you include what's good, but leave out what's not good," Frank said. "There are no two ways to read that ... revenues went down by 2 percent."

Lubchenco had departed for the Globe, as the Times reported last week, by the time Rothschild began addressing the Commerce Committee. His written testimony debunked several claims by Lubchenco and NOAA about the wonders of the catch share system.

"None of these promises have been fulfilled," said Rothschild. "In fact, the system has resulted in losses of landings, revenue and jobs, a controversial reallocation of wealth, and a failure to eliminate chronic costly overfishing and underfishing."

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.