National Fisherman

In the tank

What ever happened to right and wrong? As kids we were brought up to tell the truth and to know the difference between right and wrong and act accordingly.

When we talk about values, these are basic ones. Once they are hardwired into us, either through innate good sense or parental backhand, life gets a lot easier.

We can understand an oil spill. We don't like them, but they are probably inevitable.

What is not inevitable is that a spill would continue unabated for weeks. Moreover, it is looking more and more like the "responsible parties" either don't know or cannot bring themselves to tell the truth about how much oil is spilling.

As I write (May 16), a growing number of scientists estimate, based on their observations of the oil plume, that between 25,000 and 80,000 barrels a day are flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. BP and the U.S. government say the number is 5,000 barrels a day.

I am reminded of the aphorism, "One lies and the other one swears to it."

BP says the amount of oil spilling is "irrelevant to the response effort." That may be true as far as stopping the flow of oil is concerned, but it is hardly irrelevant to the Gulf of Mexico, its shoreline, and the currents it feeds.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service is conflicted by its need to raise money from oil production even as it regulates producers. As a result, it has been reported that the MMS in some cases pressured its own scientists to rewrite studies that found elevated risk of accidents or harm to wildlife and in some cases overruled their concerns. Last year, the service granted BP an exemption from an environmental impact statement at the Deepwater Horizon rig, and earlier assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act downplay any risk the service may have perceived.

In the early days of the spill, BP won favor among the general public for its declarations of responsibility. However, many people who watched the legal proceedings unfold following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill are skeptical.

(Within days of its 11 million gallon spill, Exxon told people in the vicinity of Alaska's Prince William Sound they were "lucky" they had Exxon in their corner. They were lucky all right — lucky if they lived long enough to collect a judgment Exxon fought every step of the way. Six thousand plaintiffs did not.)

BP has said that the $75 million liability cap is irrelevant, as well it should. Pressed, it has said it will pay all "legitimate" or "substantiated" claims, which seems somewhat less of an ironclad guarantee.

Nor is it reassuring when BP, the rig operator Transocean, and Halliburton, which cemented the well casing, are "falling over each other," in the words of President Obama, "to point the finger of blame at someone else."

BP says it doesn't know why Transocean's blowout preventer failed; Transocean says it doesn't know why the "cased and cemented" wellbore failed, and Halliburton says its work was consistent with industry standards, so it doesn't know what happened, either.

Imagine that.

Let me sum up the corporate position: Things happened, but we didn't do anything wrong and we shouldn't have to pay.

My mother wouldn't buy that. How about yours?

—Jerry Fraser

Inside the Industry

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center has announced that Dr. Jon Hare has been selected to serve as the permanent science and research director effective Oct. 31.

Read more ...

It’s no secret that fraud is a problem in the seafood industry. Oceana repeatedly touts a mislabeling epidemic. While their method has been criticized, the perception of rampant fraud  has been established.

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