, Salem, MA


April 17, 2014

Our view: Judge's ruling sends grim message on NOAA accountability


To call the ruling troubling may be the ultimate understatement; wrongheaded and unsubstantiated might be better places to start.

But in a nutshell, the judge has given NOAA vast deference to go about assessing stocks and leveling its mandates as it wants — and interpreting the governing Magnuson-Stevens Act on economic impact requirements as it wishes, as well.

Brian Rothschild, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Sustainable Fisheries — and one of fishing’s most respected scientists — noted that “there was superior data that was based on a simpler science.” And he’s right.

Most notably, the industry’s offer to carry out side-by-side research trawls with fishermen joining NOAA’s research vessel Bigelow — and its predecessor, the appropriately named Albatross — could have gone a long way toward confirming data that NOAA stands by, but fishermen and UMass marine scientists openly dispute. While the judge acknowledged that a side-by-side, joint research trawl was “a proven methodology that (NOAA’s National marine Fisheries Service) could have deployed,” he added that NMFS was under no “affirmative obligation” to collect new data.

Really? Especially given that NOAA’s data collection has been so flawed in the past? And it’s downright scary to note that this government agency, which has no “obligation” to check its work or do better, has used this data to drive the family fishing business to the brink of collapse — just as our federal government and corporate America did to the family farm.

Coakley said last week she was uncertain whether to file an appeal, and we hope she gives that decision a long, hard look.

If this ruling stands, we now know for sure: NOAA is truly “accountable to no one.”

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