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SEAFOOD.COM NEWS by John Sackton (Commentary) - June 12, 2009 - The Gloucester Times, speaking for the fishing community in Gloucester, has been on the war-path against NOAA head Jane Lubchenco and NMFS.
The events of this year, including a court injunction against NMFS groundfish management, subsequently lifted, anger at cutbacks in days at sea, and unhappiness with an ongoing investigation into the Gloucester Display Auction, have caused some to have a knee jerk reaction that any regulation or enforcement action is harmful and biased against the fishing industry.
This leads to the absurdity of claiming, as one writer recently did, that the spring spawning closure, in effect for more than 20 years, was somehow responsible for low cod prices fishermen received the first week in June.
Another example of this thinking going off the deep-end is the latest editorial in the Gloucester Times (link here) suggesting that the inspector general's review of NMFS enforcement should only focus on New England, not the rest of the country.
The paper urges the IG to ignore Lubchenco's request for a broad national review.
They say this 'not the time to expand the investigation's focus to include National Marine Fisheries Service enforcement tactics across the entire nation. That would simply delay the probe and water it down.'
In the thinking of the editorial, the case is closed. NMFS will be found guilty, and Gloucester complaints will be vindicated.
But in fact, the picture is much less clear. Around the rest of the country, there is not nearly the level of complaint and aggression against NMFS enforcement as there is in New England. New England is thought to be the region with the highest non-compliance with fisheries regulations, and also has a regional management council that is the most out of step with national NMFS policy, repeatedly clashing with NMFS.
Some in Gloucester say the problem is entirely the making of NMFS, and that the fault lies with the regional administrator, Patricia Kurkul, and overly aggressive enforcement.
And perhaps they are right, and IG investigation may show this.
But Lubchenco is more right to call for a national review. The only way to evaluate whether NMFS enforcement in New England is out of step is to determine whether NOAA acts differently in New England than in the rest of the country.
If the probe finds instead that NOAA actions are consistent, and that the New England industry has a history of fighting compliance, it would point to the fact that the problem lies not in the rules or enforcement, but in the decent into outright war between harvesters in New England and NMFS.
This question cannot be answered by focusing only on New England where there are problems. The Gloucester call to short circuit the national investigation is self-serving, because it would prevent any consideration of regional differences in compliance, which might make NMFS enforcement not the culprit, or as guilty, as they have already been declared in Gloucester.
I for one want to see Lubchenco stick to her guns, and help bring New England more into line with the systems in use in the rest of the U.S. for fisheries management and enforcement, so long as they are fair and equitable.
Founder of Seafood.com News. I have 30 years in the seafood industry. Started in New England. My work with Baader in the 1980's introduced me to the global industry. Started my own Internet business in 1994. Survived the dot com boom / bust by being honest. Partnered with Urner Barry, and built Seafood.com News into our flagship product. Also do a lot of speaking and consulting on market issues, price forecasts and outlook. Currently I work for both harvesters and processors in the crab and shrimp industry in Newfoundland, and the crab industry in Alaska. My personal goal is to contribute to the sustainable growth of the entire seafood industry - which occupies a unique and special place in the lives of everyone who is a part of it.