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October 3, 2011

NOAA's Lubchenco sees tunnel 'light' in fishing disputes

BOSTON — NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told a Senate Commerce Committee field hearing today that, while there is a "long way to go" in rebuilding trust with the fishing community, "we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

But, except perhaps for her assistant administrator Eric Schwaab — who sat next to Lubchenco during an often tense 2 1/2-hour State House hearing organized by Sen. John Kerry — there was little evidence that anyone else either on the panel of six federal lawmakers or among stakeholder-witnesses spied the same light.

Congressmen John Tierney, Barney Frank and Sen. Scott Brown spoke of Lubchenco and her administration as a lost cause, both before and after she and Schwaab departed the State House hearing room just before Brian Rothschild, the distinguished scientist at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, delivered his three-minute oral statement at the end of the second panel.

Lubchenco and Schwaab made up the first panel.

Even Kerry, who used the hearing to organize a private NOAA and stakeholders summit conference to be scheduled, acknowledged afterward, "This is very frustrating."

But Kerry said he believed it should be possible in short order take three important steps forward:

More frequent stock assessments, with the goal of conducting them yearly for the key stocks, rather than the current two- and three-year cycles or more;

Liberalizing the 10 percent limit on rolling over uncaught allocations into the next fishing year; and,

Getting an emergency declaration from NOAA that could open the door to increased allocations.

Lubchenco said the holdup on the emergency declaration was due to the failure of the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick to follow through with a more detailed economic impact analysis of the re-engineered groundfishery into a quasi commodities market.

And she said the New England Fishery Management Council was the impediment to liberalizing the 10 percent carry over limit on uncaught fish.

"To create trust," Sen. Mark Begich, the Alasaka Democrat who chairs the subcommittee on oceans and fisheries, advised Lubchenco, "is about communication — at times more than you ever anticipated."

For much more on today's hearing and on this story, look to tomorrow's print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times and gloucestertimes.com.

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

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