Letters of the law: brought to you by E, D, F

Forget the fact that the aim of the challenge is to protect the small-boat owners of the fleet and the fishing communities in which the fleets were founded centuries ago.

The real juice of this suit lies in the surprisingly high portion of cod granted to the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association.

After two years of watching the unfolding story of corruption in NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, can we really turn a blind eye to the many coincidences that may or may not have resulted in the hook fishermen getting a disproportionately large slice of the pie?

Their CEO also happens to be the chairman of the New England Fishery Management Council. The council happened to be the group setting allocations. The hook fishermen happen to have partnered with influential environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, and become the flagship of sector management. NOAA happens to be guided by Jane Lubcheco, a former vice chairwoman of the EDF.

To be fair, New England council Chairman John Pappalardo has a generally good reputation among fishermen. But his affiliation with the Cape Cod group opens him up to an extra measure of scrutiny any time that group benefits, fairly or unfairly, from council proceedings.

The true kicker is that the district judge who presided over the case decided not to allow the plaintiffs to conduct discovery to illuminate what influence non-governmental organizations may have had on the process. Add to that the fact that Lubchenco and EDF President Fred Krupp were no-shows at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the subject of catch shares in June.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, and I’m certainly no politician. But even as an average American, I think I know enough about the way the system works to have an inkling that this situation is more “politics as usual” than it is “coincidence.”

The result is that the many parties involved in the suit may decide (even today) to appeal the decision. Or that Congress may take up the matter by reforming the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Congress has some major tasks at hand in trying to map the future of this country. It would be nice to see some of the politics put aside and someone throw a bone to New England fishermen, rather than force another burden on our federal lawmakers.

In the meantime, New England’s fishermen will be scratching and clawing their way up the Hill.

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