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Commercial fishing captain tells Obama officials their policies make it hard to produce wild caught seafood
I told Locke, "I am extremely disappointed [and], as far as I am concerned, you are doing a poor job," Ruhle said. He added, "I told them it bothered me to serve them wild caught seafood [because of how] hard they are making it for us to produce it."

Ruhle said he also spoke Wednesday night to Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said he told Lubchenco, "It's not getting any better. There is more fish out there of some species than we have ever seen.  Something has to change."

The conversation occurred at the NOAA Fry Fish held in Washington, D.C., on June 9, said Ruhle, president of Commercial Fishermen of America. He said he spoke to Locke and Lubchenco as a commercial fisherman, not a CFA representative.
 

by JONATHAN HEMMERDINGER
Special to Saving Seafood

WASHINGTON - June 15, 2010 - U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was reminded of industry frustration at last week's NOAA Officer’s Family Association fish fry, when commercial fisherman Jim Ruhle, who participates in cooperative research projects aboard his vessel Darana R, criticized Locke’s management of the industry and the accuracy of the agency's Northeast fish stock data.

I told Locke, "I am extremely disappointed [and], as far as I am concerned, you are doing a poor job," Ruhle said. He added, "I told them it bothered me to serve them wild caught seafood [because of how] hard they are making it for us to produce it."

Ruhle said he also spoke Wednesday night to Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said he told Lubchenco, "It's not getting any better. There is more fish out there of some species than we have ever seen.  Something has to change."

The conversation occurred at the NOAA Fry Fish held in Washington, D.C., on June 9, said Ruhle, president of Commercial Fishermen of America. He said he spoke to Locke and Lubchenco as a commercial fisherman, not a CFA representative.

Ruhle said he faults Locke and Lubchenco for failing to acknowledge and correct the use of inaccurate fish stock survey data gathered from the agency's research vesselAlbatross IV.   The agency came under fire three years ago when it was revealed thatAlbatross had been towing mismatched gear. Ruhle and other fishermen say the vessel's surveys resulted in underestimates of fish stocks and fishing restrictions now forcing fishermen out of business.

"There are more fish in the ocean and some species are at record high abundances but it is not acknowledged," Ruhle said he told Locke, adding, "They have to acknowledge there were problems with the Albatross data."

Ruhle said he urged the officials to rely more on data from cooperative research—studies conducted by partnerships of scientists, fishermen and academics.

"You need to get more involved with cooperative [and] collaborative research so that we get numbers on what is really available out there," he said he told Locke.

Ruhle said Locke responded that the agency is "really trying" and is "working on it."

Wednesday's conversation wasn't Ruhle's first with Locke; he met the secretary at last year's fish fry.  At that time, Ruhle said didn't criticize Locke, then new on the job.

"I told him I recognized he just took the position over and inherited a tremendousamount of problems," Ruhle said. "That was last year."

Saving Seafood contacted the offices of both officials for further comment. Only Lubchenco's office responded.

In a statement, NOAA director of communications and external affairs Justin Kenney said Lubchenco "spoke briefly" to Ruhle at the fish fry. He said the agency's Northeast fisheries science "rests on some of the most comprehensive data sets in the world" and "tell us much about the condition of living marine populations and waters in the region over time."

Kenney said NOAA's stock assessments incorporate all available data, including reports from fishermen that contradict agency data.

He added, "Even though a stock may be recovering, it does not mean we have solved all the challenges and met all the goals. The Magnuson Stevens Act requires that we rebuild all the stocks in [a] timeline."



Fishing community appeals to Obama


Ruhle's exchange with Locke and Lubchenco came just days before the Northeast fishing community, bypassing agency heads, invited President Obama to Gloucester, Mass., to discuss the impact of NOAA's new sector management system, implemented May 1.

"I have a simple request. Come to Gloucester. See for yourself the hardworking fishermen who have spent years conserving the fisheries resource only now to be shut out of their livelihood at a time when the fish are rebounding," said Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk in a June 11 letter to Obama.

Government regulations, Kirk said, are "unnecessarily putting small fishing businesses out of business, and leading to job loss and despair in our fishing communities."

She added that the industry has received "no satisfaction whatsoever from your staff, including NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke."

The Northeast Seafood Coalition wrote Obama on the same day, saying new restrictions will lead to businesses closures, job losses and industry consolidation in ports along the Northeast coast.

"We invite you to visit with us and other industry members," the letter said, adding, "Time is of the essence; many groundfish businesses predict that they will be unable to continue operating beyond August 2010."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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