Obama Fishing Czar Divides Democrats: Why John Kerry and Barney Frank are lining up against the administration’s “catch share” policy

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BY IRA STOLL – The next battle over President Obama’s job-killing regulations may take place on the Atlantic Coast, where fishermen, and the senators and congressmen who represent them, are voicing mounting frustration at the Obama administration’s “catch-share” rules for the fishing industry.

The Republican senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, on Saturday stood with fishermen in Gloucester and called on Mr. Obama to fire the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco.

But the frustration at Ms. Lubchenco, who also serves as under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, extends well beyond Republican, Tea Party-backed senators or libertarians for whom the idea of a federally enforced “share” program sounds like some nightmare out of an Ayn Rand novel.


A surprising and growing number of Democratic elected officials are also expressing annoyance and outright opposition. Sen. Kerry, the Democrat of Massachusetts who was his party’s presidential nominee in 2004, said Friday, “Because of federal regulations limiting fishing in our waters, a lot of our fisherman have been put out of business or pushed the brink.” Also last week, he sent a stern letter to Ms. Lubchenco, warning her, “tensions between federal regulators and the fishing community have reached a boiling point beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed in my 26 years in the Senate.”

Earlier this year, the two senators from New York, Charles Schumer and Kristin Gillibrand, both Democrats, joined with Democratic congressmen Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Frank Pallone of New Jersey to write the secretary of commerce a letter “to express our concern that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) catch share policy will further endanger the economic vitality of the already-struggling fishing industry.” A Schumer press release warned that the “flawed catch share policy…. could irreparably damage our fishing industry.”

The Democratic mayor of New Bedford, Mass., Scott Lang, denounced the catch-share policy. “We’ve got the worst economy since the Great Depression, and we’re keeping people from working. … It’s really, I think, done a tremendous amount of damage to the fishing community.”

And earlier this year, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat who socializes with Mr. Obama when Mr. Obama is vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, filed a brief in support of a lawsuit against the catch-share regulations, calling them “poorly thought through and poorly implemented.”

The story hasn’t yet hit The New York TimesPolitico, or the Drudge Report. But when it does, it won’t be pretty. At the center of the storm is Ms. Lubchenco, whose official biography fits what to the Obama administration’s critics will seem like a familiar pattern. Like President Obama himself and like Mr. Obama’s initial economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, Ms. Lubchenco has an advanced degree from Harvard. Like Mr. Obama and Mr. Summers, Ms. Lubchenco has little private sector experience, but spent a lot of time teaching at a university—in her case, more than 20 years at Oregon State University. When President Obama nominated her to the NOAA job, she was vice chairman of the board of the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental advocacy group that promotes catch shares, which are kind of like a cap-and-trade emissions scheme transferred to fishery management. When her appointment was announced, EDF’s president, Fred Krupp, praised her by saying, “her depth of understanding of climate change is unmatched.”

Her official biography also notes that she is a recipient of 14 honorary doctoral degrees and of one of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” awards.

Which raises the question—if Ms. Lubchenco is such a “genius,” how has she managed to so thoroughly frustrate, irritate, and annoy so many small fishermen and the politicians who represent them?

Partly it is by displaying a kind of arrogance towards those not blessed with her genius. She reportedlyminimized the job losses under catch-share by describing them as “marginal jobs where people are squeaking by.”

She snubbed Massachusetts elected officials by departing early from a subcommittee hearing to go meet with the Boston Globe editorial board. A representative of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, in a letter to the Gloucester Timescalled Ms. Lubchenco’s testimony about one of their own programs “disingenuous, dishonest and disrespectful to all our community’s fishing fleet.”

I tried to get Ms. Lubchenco’s side of it, but her communications and legislative teams didn’t return my phone call.

Memo to President Obama: When Charles Schumer, John Kerry, Barney Frank, Deval Patrick, and the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association are all warning that your regulations are destroying jobs, maybe it’s time to start putting prioritizing people ahead of fish. And, along with that, to start wondering whether your NOAA administrator may not be such a genius, after all.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of Samuel Adams: A Life. This is reprinted from Reason.com with permission.