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Monday, October 17, 2011

RFA TO US SENATE - TEAR DOWN THE PEDESTAL

Going fishing too often usually puts me on the hot seat with the folks at home, especially during the fall run.

Paradoxically, a woman named Jane Lubchenco is on the hot seat with those of us in the fishing community; has been since the day she was chosen by President Barack Obama to take the position of NOAA Administrator back in March of 2009.

From day one when recreational and commercial fishing community became aware that this Pew Fellowship award winner, Director/ Trustee of SeaWeb and Environmental Defense, Trustee Emerita of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and 8th Annual Heinz Award in the Environment award winner would be in charge of future angling access, we’ve been able to fish a whole less than we did 10 years ago.

Now after 2-1/2 years of Administrative hostility and disdain, it appears as if the proverbial chickens may have come home to roost.

On Monday, October 3, 2011, a Senate Subcommittee Field Hearing was held in a packed Massachusetts State House. The highly-charged hearing was chaired by Senator Kerry (D-MA) and focused primarily on NOAA’s controversial catch share program, the embattled NOAA Administrator Dr Lubchenco, and NOAA’s troubled Office of Law Enforcement which officials claim misused fines and legal fees paid by members of the commercial fishing sector.

Other coastal legislators who participated in the hearing included Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), Congressman John Tierney (D-MA), Congressman Bill Keating (D-MA), and Massachusetts State Senate President, Therese Murray (D-Plymouth).

As elected legislators attempted to take the top government appointee to task for failing to work with coastal stakeholders, the chief bureaucrat turned the tables on those elected officials, prompting one stark headline from an organization called Americans for Forfeiture Reform, NOAA Blames Congress

According to policy analyst Scott Alexander Meiner, Dr. Lubchenco gave “a series of meandering evasions” which prompted a rather sharp response by Rep. Frank. “Why can’t you give me a straight answer. Just give a straight answer. It could be yes. It could be no. You don’t have to hire someone to take the SAT for you,” Rep. Frank said.

“Most agencies are at least somewhat advocates of the industry they regulate… I can think of only two that hold their industry guilty until proven innocent- the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and NMFS,” Frank continued.

“We will commit to clarifying what we can and cannot do,” Lubchenco answered.

“Will you commit to expediting the return of legal fees?” asked Rep. Tierney.

“I will commit to looking into that,” Dr. Lubchenco responded.

In another volley, Sen. Brown shot back “what does it take to get fired at NOAA?”

The NOAA Administrator coolly and calmly explained that NOAA cannot discuss personnel matters due to federal regulations governing the treatment and privacy of federal employees. It would be nice to know just what kind of action would get someone fired within the government, but thanks to Congress there’s no way for the American people to really know how such a process would be enacted or followed.

Federal laws enacted by our own legislature to protect federal employees; when a recent top enforcement officer committed the inappropriate and illegal act leading to many of these New England Subcommittee hearings, nothing was really done in terms of punishing the staffer, nor can any subsequent actions even be made public.

In other words, these New England Members of Congress were searching for answers but getting none, mainly because of rules and regulations which they helped pass that protects the government itself from most types of regulatory oversight and control, keeping appointed bureaucrats insulated from charges brought against them by members of the public.

The same thing as with catch shares and burdensome regulation stemming from the 2007 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act that was passed by Congressman Frank and Congressman Tierney in 2006, the legislators set a restrictive speed limit and now they’re grilling the top trooper for ticketing so many of their constituents during the past 4-1/2 years that the speed traps have been in place.

However, while Frank, Tierney and Brown have become more vocal about the possibility of seeing Dr. Lubchenco removed from her position as NOAA Chief, Sen. Kerry has remained more general, perhaps vanilla, in his criticism.

As reported by Meiner, “Senator Kerry crafted a more inclusive approach, asking for Dr Lubchenco to treat the most harmed fishing areas as disaster zones. Lubchenco indicated a willingness provided the regional fishing councils would provide her the data which she noted had not been done. Senator Kerry then initiated a plan to convene a private meeting with Dr Jane Lubchenco, NMFS officials, concerned legislators, and fishing industry stake holders in a closed session presumably to flesh out steps forward and to air grievances. Kerry was able to elicit Dr Lubchenco’s acceptance of an invitation.”

Sen. Kerry of course was a member of the Senate in 2006 who willingly accepted a vote of unanimous consent of the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, the very same law which has given NOAA so much authority in denying fishermen access to rebuilding fish stocks while ramrodding a program of catch shares through upon the angling public. In other words, it was Kerry who helped hand deliver the congressional edict for the top cop in charge of writing traffic summonses along the intercoastal highway!

“This clearly threatens the future of small boat fishing in Massachusetts, which has been a way of life for generations of our families,” Sen. Kerry warned the good Doctor about the rapid spread of catch shares implemented by NOAA throughout the fishing community. “I want you to know that their way of life will not end on my watch,” Kerry said.

Arguably, catch shares and no take areas of ocean through a network of marine reserves would in fact negatively impact life as we know it along the coastal United States, particularly for those who make their living on the water – which is that makes Sen. Kerry’s comments so unique.

Consider for a moment that on March 12, 2002, Dr. Jane Lubchenco officially received a Heinz Award for the Environment. In her acceptance speech, the NOAA chief to be told the world “The reality is that we are not just using oceans - we are using them up. If we truly want to be able to use them tomorrow, we have to do a better job of protecting them today. A powerful new tool that is emerging and that is being talked about much more seriously is that of a network of marine reserves - not unlike national parks or wilderness areas on land. A marine reserve is an area of the sea that is completely protected from extractive activities. They are also called "no take areas" - no fishing, no mining, no drilling, no dumping. These fully protected marine reserves have been shown quite definitely to be extremely powerful in protecting habitat in protecting biodiversity and protecting the essential services provided by marine ecosystems. And in some cases, they are also helping to replenishing depleted fisheries. At present, far less than one percent of U.S. water is fully protected. So we have some real opportunities to make a real difference with this new solution.”

The chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation and the Heinz Endowments which helped promote Dr. Lubchenco’s lifelong efforts to restrict the rights of coastal fishermen is Teresa Heinz, the wife of Sen. John Kerry.

When U.S. Congress put forth the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, it was passed through the Senate by unanimous consent, meaning there was no debate on the floor as to the laws vices or virtues. Pushed by primary sponsor Ted Stevens (R-AK), the bill had seven Democratic sponsors including Sen. Kerry, and six Republican sponsors including the law’s namesake, Sen. Stevens. By clearing the legislation through Senate by an up-and-down vote with no discussion, it memorialized very restrictive definitions, deadlines, and requirements which have since been used by NMFS to beat down the recreational and commercial fishing industry.

Efforts to amend the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act to incorporate some management flexibility allowing fisheries management discretion to keep fisheries open to fishing access in situations where the stocks are showing improved stock biomass have been introduced by both the House and Senate, however, Sen. Kerry has refused to support the bill, neither has his wife’s friend Jane.

“Would you support a law that would allow more flexibility rather than rely on the most recent study,” asked Rep. Keating of the NOAA Chief at the October 3 Senate Subcommittee Field Hearing.

“No,” replied Dr. Lubchenco.

So much for evasive answers.

On September 23, 2011, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) along with Rep. Barney Frank co-sponsored a piece of legislation designed to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to extend the authorized time period for rebuilding of certain overfished fisheries while providing fisheries managers with limited flexibility to keep fishermen fishing when stocks are healthy enough to support it.

The appointed head of NOAA doesn’t support it; but that’s no reason why the senior Senator from Massachusetts shouldn’t. After all, it’s not up to a federally appointed, anti-business, agenda-driven environmental zealot to decide upon the will of the people.

U.S. legislators are quickly realizing that their constituents are angry about the direction of the country, the burdensome regulatory process, overly restrictive bureaucracy and wide scale contempt of those appointed to serve towards the people who elect legislators to serve their interests.

The singularly most important issue to the American voter right now is jobs, and if government continues to cut private sector jobs because of bureaucratic defiance, then someone in the public sector will have to pay.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco and her eco-warrior cohorts must be removed from the Department of Commerce immediately. If our elected officials aren’t able to remove the anointed ones, then it’s time for the electorate to find newly elected officials who can.

It’s time for Sen. Kerry to risk a few days on the couch at home in support of our fishermen – stand up to the administration, in standing against the job killing efforts of the NOAA Administrator. Take a stand for reasonable access to rebuilding fisheries by supporting bipartisan coastal legislation to fix the proverbial speed limits, thereby getting unreasonable enforcement off the backs of coastal businesses.

And once and for fall Mr. Kerry, stand up to your wife on this one – Ms. Heinz may have helped put Dr. Lubchenco upon a pedestal for the president to admire, but you can help bring her down and put Americans back to work again.

Tell your wife you’re going fishing Sen. Kerry!

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