The same day she apologized to the fishing industry in Gloucester for law enforcement excesses, NOAA chief administrator Jane Lubchenco was called to testify before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating the use of fines by her agency and funds appropriated to help operate fisheries as catch share commodity markets.
The “invitation” from the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, was signed Chairman Thomas R. Caper, a Delaware Democrat, and Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican and the ranking minority member.
The hearing is scheduled for Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, on Monday, June 20 at 10 a.m.
The letter to Lubchenco was released Wednesday and first reported online yesterday at gloucestertimes.com, though it was sent on Tuesday. That’s the day, the day she spent in Gloucester explaining, along with U.S, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, their response to a 236-page report by a special investigative master, retired U..S District Court Judge Charles B. Swartwood III.
He spent six months looking into 30 red-flagged cases of law enforcement excess by NOAA agents and litigators — problems that were concentrated in Gloucester and New Bedford — on an industry that has been destabilized by Lubchenco’s determination to install investor-driven, commodity market principles into ports that long were organized along owner-operated, small business models.
As part of the compromise budget resolution in March, Congress barred NOAA from launching any more catch share programs during the fiscal year, but the administration has forged ahead, pouring government and private grant revenues into the development of catch shares — the economic system pushed by the Environmental Defense Fund, where Lubchenco was an officer before joining the Obama administration in 2009.
EDF, known for developing the “cap and trade” carbon credit system as well, has also been encouraging investors to buy catch shares, promising the likelihood of windfall profits of 400 percent or more.
Carper and Brown’s letter told Lubchenco the hearing would focus on the use of NOAA enforcement’s Asset Forfeiture Fund, which was at the center of the federal fisheries law enforcement scandal first asserted by fishermen, then reported in the Times and other media.
Later, after petitions by state legislative leaders and the congressional delegation, the Commerce Department inspector general and finally special master Swartwood documented how federal fisheries law enforcement agents and litigators trampled the legal and civil rights of fishermen to enrich the Asset Forfeiture Fund, which NOAA personnel used as if it was a group debit card with a multi million dollar limit.
Lubchenco ordered new policies governing the Asset Forfeiture Fund in the wake of the Inspector General’s report last year.
“Furthermore,” the letter to Lubchenco from Carpers and Brown, explained, “the hearing will examine how NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service is handling money to assist New England fishermen transition to a catch share fishery management system.”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.