At long last, NOAA has filled the position of assistant administrator for fisheries, its formal title for the director of NMFS.
The "AA's" name is Eric Schwaab, and he comes via the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, where he was deputy director. He replaced James Balsiger, who had been acting director at NMFS since 2008.
I hope he's good. Two candidates with significant industry support were passed over on the way to Schwaab's selection, so fairly or not, NOAA has set the bar a little higher with his appointment.
The book on him is that he's personable and ambitious, which is probably the only way to get from Maryland's marine police, where he began as an officer in 1983, to the corner office in Silver Spring.
"He's very smart, very energetic," says Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association and a widely respected industry leader who's been around long enough to have been named a National Fisherman Highliner in 1978. "I think he'll do a good job there." Simns underlined the viewpoint that Schwaab, whose experience includes a stint on the Mid-Atlantic council, carries himself in a collegial way. "I've always been able to work with him, even when we disagreed," he says.
Elsewhere, the only criticism I have heard is that Schwaab lacks depth of experience in ocean fisheries. My rejoinder to that is, if experience in ocean fisheries were all it took to be an effective administrator, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in today. And make no mistake; we're in a mess.
As I write, several thousand fishermen, commercial and recreational, are getting ready to descend on Washington, D.C., in unprecedented unity to support a legislative effort to make the Magnuson-Stevens Act a much more effective fishery-management tool. The primary driver behind the rally is Magnuson's doctrinaire approach to rebuilding fish stocks — the act's premise seems to be that if there's no fishing at all, overfishing ceases to be a problem.
But a number of other things are weighing on fishermen. These include a lack of credible data in numerous fisheries, an aggressive — and expensive — push toward catch-shares by the Obama administration, an effort to reconstitute the regional councils with fewer industry representatives and an inspector general's damning report on NOAA's fishery-law enforcement.
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has made clear she takes the IG report seriously, and that's a good thing. But what it means for Schwaab is that for the foreseeable future, addressing NMFS' internal flaws will consume as much of his time as does the business of fishery management.
Welcome aboard, Mr. Schwaab. It should be interesting. — Jerry Fraser
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