Nation's Top Fishing Port Rallies Around Fishing Families in Need Due to Draconian Federal Fishing Regulations

Dec 23, 2010, 17:44 ET from New Bedford Harbor Development Commission

NEW BEDFORD, Mass., Dec. 23, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- The Harbor Development Commission in the nation's highest-value fishing port is undertaking an atypical mission this week. They have turned their offices into a collection center for holiday donations for fishing families in need.  

A meeting of New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang's Ocean and Fisheries Council earlier this month put a human face on the economic devastation caused by unnecessarily restrictive Federal policies affecting the fishing industry.

"Our Federal Government has become indifferent to human tragedy.  The regulators at NOAA have enacted draconian policies that include much deeper cuts than what impartial scientists believe are needed to conserve our ocean resources.  With undue influence from powerful lobbies, they have taken actions that environmental extremists think might be marginally beneficial to some fish stocks, but which we know are hurting people," said Mayor Scott Lang.

This economic toll is neither necessary nor justifiable from a scientific standpoint.  A report, prepared by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the University of Massachusetts, used government scientific statistical data to reveal that an additional 14,500 metric tons of ground fish could safely be brought to market without causing overfishing. 

Early last month, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick submitted this report to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, at Locke's request, so he would have the information to justify emergency measures to increase fishing allocations and ease the regulations that have rendered more than half of New England's ground fishing fleet idle.

But nearly two months have passed, and there has been no reply, despite persistent, bipartisan calls from Governor Patrick and from lawmakers including Barney Frank, John Kerry, Scott Brown and John Tierney.

Besides overly-restrictive limits, a unique form of NOAA's "catch share" regulatory system was also enacted in New England this year.  Called "sector management," it has encouraged consolidation of the New England ground-fish fleet into the hands of the largest and wealthiest vessel owners.  To survive, many owners of multiple boats purchased quota from single boat owners to whom Federal regulators did not give enough allocation to break even.  Some of those single boat owners are making ends meet with payments from the "big boys" for their allocations, but their boats are idle, and their crewmembers are now unemployed.  

One of the "big boys" in New England fishing is Carlos Rafael.  His life story is the American dream. A Portuguese immigrant who began with little in 1980, he is now the largest vessel owner in New Bedford, with more than 300 employees and 40 boats. Under the new catch share program, he's had to lay off 80 crew members, downsize to eleven vessels, and borrow more than a million dollars to purchase quota from smaller fishermen.  At the Mayor's meeting he told the crowd "What the government has done... has put me and a couple of other guys sitting pretty ... we are making serious money ... but, I had to downsize the fleet, I had to get rid of some people...  What's taking place in this city is a horror show.  You've got vessels tied up at these piers and people collecting unemployment. There's no reason whatsoever for these people to be collecting unemployment... There's enough fish in that ocean for these people to fish...without overfishing."

"Transitioning to catch shares is a priority for NOAA," said Monica Medina, senior advisor to NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco in June of 2009 when she headed the task force that created NOAA's policy. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, in a recent letter to Republican Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina, Dr. Lubchenco defended her policy, claiming that catch shares are "merely a tool," not an outcome and "not the cause" of job loss.  

The primary advocacy group lobbying Washington for catch share management is the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Before President Obama appointed her to the NOAA helm, Dr, Jane Lubchenco was vice chairwoman of EDF's board of directors. Her deputy, Ms. Medina, was a partner at the law firm of Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, with EDF among her clients.

"These regulations are having a dramatic adverse impact on fishing families and communities in New England and along the East Coast," Mayor Lang said. "NOAA is acting with cold-blooded indifference, as if they are proofing mathematical equations, not addressing a human crisis."

People like Jim Keding, a now unemployed 27-year veteran fisherman, are finding it difficult to face the holiday season. "When you go home every day, and your kids look you in the eye and say, 'Dad, why are you so miserable?' ... What do you say to the kids, 8 and 10 years old ... What do you say?" an emotional Keding pondered. "This is going to be the hardest Christmas I've had since I had my first child."

In a December 15 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Congressmen John Tierney, Barney Frank and Bill Delahunt together with Senator John Kerry and Scott Brown wrote that they have "have responsibly requested reasonable action by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Commerce" but their discussions "have led to little more than speeches and broken promises."

Since the implementation of NOAA's new catch share policy in May, as many as 1,250 jobs have been lost.

In his closing remarks, Mayor Lang spoke directly to the NOAA employees in attendance and told them "This is either a deliberate attempt to contract the industry, which is completely illegal, or it's ineptitude at the highest levels that I've ever seen in government -- and I am government."

Watch the mayor's closing remarks directed at NOAA employees:

Watch the fisherman and other speakers :

SOURCE New Bedford Harbor Development Commission