There can be no celebration, only a sense of profound relief over the resignation and coming exit of Jane Lubchenco as chief administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
And that sense of relief should not allow either commercial fishermen or our federal lawmakers to relax their guards between now and the February date when Lubchenco will formally bow out of her role. Indeed, the downside of Lubchenco’s plan to leave her six-figure post is that the Department of Commerce is essentially allowing her to do so on her own terms as if she should have had any choice after her policies reduced one of America’s oldest and most noble small-business industries to an admitted state of “economic disaster” in New England during her four short years at the helm.
But while federal leaders seek a successor, it’s important that Lubchenco not have any role whatsoever in any transition process.
Throughout her term, Lubchenco has shown nothing but disdain for the fishing industry, for congressional leaders and for American taxpayers, who are still paying six-figure salaries to now-ousted NOAA law enforcement leaders who have been cited by investigators from the Inspector General’s office for carrying out excessive enforcement against fishermen and other businesses, misspending money from an asset forfeiture fund, and shredding federal documents while an investigation was under way.
True to form, Lubchenco’s resignation statement included verbage suggesting that she and her staff have ended overfishing and restored economic stability to America’s fisheries through her job-killing catch share fishery management policies and debilitating catch limits based on what we now know is the shakiest of science.
Indeed, figures from the New England Fishery Management Council show that landings across the six-state region fell by 38 percent in 2011 — after 2010, the first year of catch shares, forcing 21 of the Gloucester fleet’s then-96 comercial boats or businesses right out of the water because they could no longer land enough seafood to make ends meet.
Commerce officials — and, by extension, the White House — will no doubt have some tough choices to make in choosing a successor for Lubchenco’s NOAA leadership post. In doing so, it’s important that they select someone who will, in regulating fisheries, abide by Magnuson-Stevens Act mandates to consider the economic impact of any changes on fishing communities, and to run a law enforcement wing that follows some of the basic premises of American justice, not like the current kangaroo court.
Lubchenco’s successor must be someone who can reach out to fishermen as partners seeking true scientific data and solutions. And it must be someone who can build true bridges with leaders in coastal states and in fishing communities — bridges that Lubchenco once promised, but instead has burned to the ground.
In short, Lubchenco’s successor should virtually be everything she’s not. And because of that, it’s essential that she and her leadership cohorts be kept out of any role in directing this agency beyond the next 21/2 months.
Then, and only then, will America’s fisheries be able to trust leadership in an agency that should work with, not against them. And only then can a legitimate rebuilding of this shattered trust and governance begin.