24 October 2011

Bipartisan Criticism of NOAA Fishery Policies

"Your testimony cherry picks, you include what's good, but leave out what's not good"
The quote above comes from Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) criticizing the testimony of Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of NOAA and pictured testifying above, on the impacts of federal fishery policies. In fact, a bipartisan group of members of the US Congress have called for Lubchenco's resignation.

At issue are the effects of NOAA policies for management of fisheries on the economic health of the region's fishing economy. Lubchenco has alleged success and the locals say she is wrong. The local media sums up the issue as follows:
But the thumbs-down [Republican Senator] Brown gave Lubchenco here Saturday — before about 100 onlookers — underscored a pre-existing bipartisan judgment against her by Democratic Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank who represent the ports of the Gloucester and New Bedford, respectively.

A third congressman who works closely with Tierney and Frank on fisheries issues and shares their view of Lubchenco as a failure is Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina.

That trio first asked for her removal from office in the summer of 2010. And a fifth thumbs down to Lubchenco has been delivered by New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, with the final straw coming out her appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee, meeting on Oct. 3 in Boston.

Lang, along with Brown, Tierney and Frank described her performance as patronizing and dishonest, after she credited her administration of the fisheries as restorative to the resource and the industry.

Kirk, a Democrat, has taken chosen a different tact — focusing her disappointment on President Obama and urging him to come to Gloucester to see for himself the harm done by administration fisheries policies.

Facing a cenotaph with the names of the more than 5,000 Gloucester fishermen lost at sea over the centuries, the Man at the Wheel — erected in 1923 to celebrate Gloucester's and the U.S. commercial fishing industry's 300th anniversary — made a fitting backdrop for Brown's call.

"Just a few weeks ago, Administrator Lubchenco told us ... in Boston that the fishing industry is on the rebound," Brown said in explaining his decision. "That incredible statement demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the situation in Gloucester, New Bedford and across New England."

He also pointed to her decision to leave the hearing before the last of the witnesses — distinguished academic, marine scientist and critic of Lubchenco policies Brian Rothschild — began testifying as a sign of her disrespect for fishermen. 
Rothschild's testimony can be found here in PDF, in which he provides a scathing evaluation of NOAA's performance:
It appears that fisheries management is being prosecuted at a great cost to the Nation in terms of jobs, food security, and welfare. There have been many suggestions of ways to get the system back on track. But these suggestions have never seen the light of day. We conclude that the agency, when it does respond, reiterates the problems rather than provides solutions . . .
The management of the nation's fisheries by NOAA is an important policy issue of national importance. The performance of NOAA deserves a wider examination, especially by experts who are not in the region and thus a bit further from the local politics of the issue.

The issue of NOAA and New England fisheries is obviously bipartisan, and yet the national media and especially those who focus on science and the environment appear to have completely missed this issue (please do correct me if I am mistaken). Is this another instance of willful blindness when it comes to issues of science and politics under the Obama Administration? (One can imagine the froth had these exact events transpired under GWB.)  If so, then such blindness merely reinforces a partisan divide rather than opening up these complex issues to a deeper discussion.

I will email some journalist colleagues for their views, and report back.

DISCLAIMER: I am a Fellow of CIRES here at the University of Colorado, a NOAA-afilliated research institute.