The truth is, yesterday’s Senate field hearing on financial management by federal fishery regulators wasn’t just a one-day, one-subject event. With the vague title “How is NOAA managing funds to protect domestic fishing?” the testimony and questioning spanned everything from reforming NOAA’s law enforcement practices to providing financial support for New England fishermen struggling with the catch shares management system put in place last spring. And the lead-up to the event was its own political three-ring circus.
What got things started was the fact that NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) President Fred Krupp declined invitations to testify at the hearing.
- The mayors of New Bedford and Gloucester – Massachusetts’ largest fishing ports and those most opposed to the catch shares system – called for a subpoena to compel Fred Krupp to testify about “the depth and breadth of EDF’s influence on national policy.”
- The Gloucester Times, a paper that openly opposes the catch shares system and subscribes to the idea that environmental groups are over-running the regulatory system, published an editorial encouraging Congressman John Tierney and other Massachusetts legislators to push for Lubchenco’s resignation (which he did on Monday).
- John Sackton, the publisher of the industry news service Seafoodnews.com, published an editorial explicitly calling Mayors Kirk and Lang “malcontents” and “crazies,” and implying that the same could be said of other Massachusetts lawmakers who have spent considerable time and effort in the past year opposing catch shares. “A sickness has descended on the political class in New England,” Sackton wrote. They have “so tied themselves to a few fisheries malcontents that they have lost sight of how they might really support their industry.”
- Senator Scott Brown published an editorial in The Gloucester Times calling federal fishery regulation a “broken system.” And, while he noted that it was “not the subject of Monday’s hearing,” he also took the opportunity to decry “overregulation” and “restrictive catch share policies.”
- In response, Conservation Law Foundation urged Senator Brown stop beating a dead horse and start working on “real solutions for problems in New England’s fisheries.” On their Talking Fish blog, Peter Shelley is in the midst of a multi-part exploration of what CLF and Pew Environment consider to be one such solution – using fishing permit banks to introduce and keep small-scale fishermen in the business.
- On the day of the hearing, The Gloucester Times issued another editorial calling for “legitimate actions,” including ousting Jane Lubchenco and pursuing legal charges against NOAA law enforcement officials.
This may not be an exhaustive accounting of all that was said, but it certainly gives you the flavor: extra spicy. With the event now over, things seem to have calmed down a bit. The Gloucester Times continued its coverage with a report entitled “What does it take to get fired?” – although that was an actual quote from Senator Brown referring to NOAA employees other than Administrator Lubchenco. And the New Bedford Standard Times ran a report with the headline “Brown blasts NOAA …” But those both look mild in comparison to last week’s heightened rhetoric.