Fisheries rulemaking earns more black marks

ELLSWORTH — The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Commerce has warned the National Oceanographic and Administration (NOAA) that it needs to improve financial disclosure by members of the regional management councils that set the rules that govern the nation’s fisheries.

Inspector General Todd Zinser also warned NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who has overseen NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service since 2009, that the agency has not done a proper job of maintaining records on which fisheries management decisions are based or implemented procedural reforms in the works since 2003.

Zinser outlined his findings in a Jan. 16 letter to Lubchenco that accompanied a 25-page report on a review of the fisheries service (NMFS) begun in 2011 at the urging of U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and John Tierney, both Massachusetts Democrats.

Frank retired in January after some 30 years in Congress. Lubchenco will retire at the end of this month and resume her academic career. Before taking the NOAA job, Lubchenco was a professor of marine biology at the University of Oregon.

Perhaps the most troubling finding is that, while federal law requires voting members of the eight regional fishery management councils to submit financial disclosure statements, an examination of 73 publicly available statements disclosed “more than 20 instances” of missing information that suggest an “ineffective review” of those statements by NOAA. As a result, the report said, it is difficult to determine whether a particular council member might have a conflict of interest that should bar the member from voting on a particular issue.

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