As NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco sails off into the proverbial sunset today, a question usually reserved for presidential candidates comes to mind. Are fishermen better off today than they were four years ago? Northeast groundfishermen would say, "No."
A 2009 Gloucester Times article reported on the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Lubchenco, an environmental scientist and marine ecologist who was a Pew Fellow and former Environmental Defense trustee. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who described NMFS' relationship with New England fishermen as haughty, dismissive and isolated, asked Lubchenco how she planned to repair the relationship.
Agreeing that it was a "seriously dysfunctional relationship," Lubchenco vowed to "create a new climate of trust."
The Senate subsequently confirmed Lubchenco. However, her zeal for catch share management, a NOAA law enforcement scandal that revealed overzealous targeting of the region's fishermen and an astonishingly dire 2011 cod stock assessment that contradicted the more upbeat previous survey did little to improve that relationship.
Equally troubling was her reluctance to respond to letters and requests of state and federal politicians for information and action, and the agency's penchant for touting catch shares as a success in New England while omitting the negative effect they were having upon groundfish harvesters.
They're saddled with a catch share management system they never wanted. The Commerce Department issued a disaster declaration for the fishery in 2012. Now, facing cod harvest cuts of 77 percent in the Gulf of Maine and 61 percent on Georges Bank that begin this year, they seek a way forward.
"We know there's no disaster assistance that's coming anytime soon, the agency had to announce that because of their budget that 50 percent of [at sea] monitoring is going to be laid upon the industry, and the quota is all being taken off the table," Vito Giacalone of the Northeast Seafood Coalition told the New England Fishery Management Council at its Jan. 30 meeting.
New England groundfish harvesters may not be better off today than they were four years ago, but you can forgive them if they believe they're better off without Lubchenco managing NOAA.