NOAA, Row Your Boat Ashore … And Stay There

iStock_000011259019XSmallFor the last few years, we at the National Center for Public Policy Research have had some fun at the expense of NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and its anemic record of predicting hurricanes.  We have pitted NOAA against some unlikely hurricane forecasters to highlight the federal group’s ineptitude.  Last year, NOAA bested our chimpanzee by more closely forecasting the number of 2010 hurricanes.  This hurricane season, we will find out if NOAA is smarter than our 5th graders.

But, perhaps we are poking the wrong hornet’s nest.  It turns out that some NOAA officials are bullies.

Just ask Larry Ciulla of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

NOAA bureaucrats fined Ciulla, head of the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction, $120,000 and ordered his business closed for 90 days.  What was his crime?  NOAA officials alleged he exceeded his daily take by a single fish.  NOAA polices fisherman and regulates seafood catch shares.    Its oppressive regulations and aggressive enforcement tactics are threatening a proud and important Northeastern industry.

And Ciulla is not the only victim of NOAA’s regulatory zeal.

Last year, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke appointed a special investigator to look into reports of NOAA officials levying improper fines and engaging in questionable behavior.  To date, NOAA has apologized to about a dozen Northeast fishermen and returned $650,000 from inappropriate fines.  More than 80 investigations are ongoing.

How did this happen?  Boston Globe columnist Jean Vennochi claims that NOAA went rogue.  Vennochi writes:

This year, federal officials finally acknowledged their own regulators had gone rogue. They were guilty of overzealous, abusive, and targeted enforcement, a series of independent investigations revealed. Regulators were levying crippling fines for invented or inflated offenses, as they relentlessly bullied an entire industry. They were using the fishermen’s money to finance a fleet of cars, a luxury boat, and assorted foreign junkets.

For more than a decade, Bay State fishermen have suffered under the thumb of these renegade regulators.  And beyond the rogue employees, NOAA’s actual regulations are threatening this Northeastern way of life.

NOAA oversees such a poorly managed catch share program that, according to Senator Scott Brown (R-MA):

NOAA’s restrictive catch share policies threaten the economies of our fishing towns, as revenues and catches continue to become concentrated in larger boats and firms.

Overregulation has led to a set of rules that most fishermen and enforcement officials alike have said is needlessly complex. NOAA officials have ignored scientific findings that do not fit their worldview, meaning that millions of dollars of catch have been left in the ocean, while pleas to revise extremely cautious stock assessments and rebuilding plans have gone completely unheeded.

The situation is about to go from bad to worse. NOAA is working to implement a full-scale cap and trade system for the fishing industry.

The Boston Globe explains,

NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco is leading an effort by the Obama administration to convert fisheries into commodity markets.

Today, fish are a common resource that are harvested by independent boats working under various controls. The Obama administration wants to divide the allowable catch into shares, which are then allocated to participants.

Obama and NOAA already know what will happen if this program goes through.  Last year, NOAA enacted a small-scale cap and trade type program on groundfish.  The results have been disastrous.

According to New Bedford, Massachusetts Mayor Scott Lang,

The average fisherman, the family fisherman, are being driven out.

The Massachusetts’ fishing fleet has been reduced by 60 percent in recent years. The small family fishermen have been the hardest hit by NOAA’s catch share policies, while the beneficiary of Obama’s groundfish cap and trade program appears to be larger fishing boats.  Jessica Fargen of the Boston Herald explains:

Figures from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show larger operations appear to have benefited.  Annual revenue for boats larger than 75 feet increased approximately 33 percent in 2010 — up to $800,000, from $600,000 in 2009.

In more bad news for the fishing industry, Fargan notes that political leaders are concerned about President Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary (Commerce oversees NOAA), John Bryson:

Congressional members of both parties, including Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, are skeptical about the environmental ties of President Obama’s pick for Department of Commerce secretary, who oversees the nation’s fisheries.

Bryson co-founded the National Resources Defense Council, a fringe group of legal activists who abuse the court system to advance a radical environmentalist agenda.  Bryson also supports a jobs-killing cap and trade program for CO2 emissions.  Bryson’s radical record does not bode well for the fishermen of the Northeast.

Obama should rethink his Commerce Secretary nomination, and NOAA should rethink its catch share program.  If not, they may destroy a proud way of life and a majestic part of Americana.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.