Written by Jen Finn
September 27, 2012
Simple advice is offered to aviators who find themselves piloting an airplane that is suddenly out of control: Undo what you just did.
Unfortunately, for the majority of New England fishermen who feel they no longer have control over their lives, there may be nothing they can undo.
Everything they have worked for has all but been undone — by the glacial pace of the council process, by Congress, and most of all, by NOAA.
This agency could be a repository of fishery science, management expertise, and historical knowledge. Its mission could extend beyond baseline abundance thresholds to encompass the economic well-being of its constituents within and without the fishing community.
Instead, NOAA has become an object of mistrust, its institutional gravitas a hostage to scandal. Its director, Jane Lubchenco, so passionate about catch shares, seems emotionally unconnected to the plight of fishermen and to the shenanigans — vindictive prosecutions, inordinate fines, slush funds — that became the core product of the agency's enforcement branch in New England.
Of course, Lubchenco's management style would not be an issue if there were a general sense that things were getting better. Rather, they have deteriorated to the point that less than two years into President Obama's first term, congressmen in his own party are calling for Lubchenco, an Obama appointee, to resign.
As if that were not rebuke enough, Lubchenco's boss, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, said in mid-October that he has the authority to make emergency revisions to the regulations that could result in an increase in quotas for some critical New England species, given "sufficient economic and sound scientific data."
Locke's decision makes common sense; he is simply saying that management ought to be reasonable and flexible. And it's likely to benefit fishermen: My experience has been that when fishermen draw a line in the sand regarding the health of a stock, research bears them out.
It's also good news in terms of pubic perceptions. As former governor of Washington, with its tradition of salmon wrangles and anti-netting propositions, Locke is no naïf when it comes to fishery management. Critics will accuse him of caving to political pressure, but it will be hard to make the charge stick: a handful of New England congressmen weren't going to make him go somewhere he was resolved not to go.
Is Locke's decision the same as "undoing what you just did"? It's too early to say. But it's a step in the right direction that should encourage all U.S. fishermen, not just New Englanders.
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By the time you get this you'll have just a few days left to submit your Crew Shots entries for our January issue. And remember: The cover of the January 2011 issue will be a single photo chosen from among the submissions.
We'll consider any photo taken this year. We need a fairly large image — approximately 2587 x 3458 pixels and 300 dpi for cover consideration.
Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct. 29 and enter "crew shots 11" in the subject line. Include vessel name, home port, where the shot was taken and the names of all pictured crew members, from left to right.
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