CBS News takes NOAA Fisheries Management to the woodshed

Wow!  What a nice job by CBS News, Armen Keteyian, and Katie Couric. 

On 16 February, CBS News devoted some four minutes to an investigative piece into the scandal that should have rocked NOAA and the Obama administration last fall.  Our government is driving the fishing industry into oblivion with "unduly complicated" regulations and with federal agents who are "overzealous" and prone to "abusive conduct."

The piece opened with Bill Lee, a fisherman from Rockport, MA, who has been forced out of business by the fines levied by NOAA.  Mr. Lee is articulate and the photogenic background of Motif No. 1 is emblematic of New England.  CBS got the sound bite but they are constrained by time.  A more in depth coverage of Mr. Lee's ordeal is given in Richard Gaines' article in the Gloucester Times.

Mr. Keteyian next spoke to Richard Burgess, another fisherman.  Mr. Burgess told of being fined $27,000 for a paperwork error and being told that if he contested the fine, it could go up to $125,000 or more.  You can view Mr. Burgess' testimony to Congress on that incident and others at the link.  Mr. Burgess said on camera to CBS, "[We are] hardworking people and we've been treated as common criminals."  Ouch!

The outrages were investigated by the Department of Congress Inspector General (IG), who confirmed the fishermen's complaints.  See my American Thinker essay on "NOAA's Law Enforcement Behaving Badly."  CBS addressed the NOAA Law Enforcement "Shredding Party" where the director of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement shredded some 70-80% of his documents before the IG ever got to see them. 

The only NOAA representative on the piece was Eric Schwaab, the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, not the janitor but not the boss.  Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the boss of NOAA and a confirmed environmental zealot, did not appear; why not?  Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Dr. Lubchenco's titular boss, did not appear; why not?

CBS showed a clip of Senator Grassley, who said, "I want to make sure that heads roll ... because in a bureaucracy, if heads don't roll, you don't change behavior."

Nicely said, Senator, but no heads have rolled and apparently none will.  Nobody has been punished at all.  There will be no change in behavior.  Dr. Lubchenco and her minions are looking forward, not backwards; bureaucratic doublespeak for doing nothing. 

Mr. Keteyian concludes with a nice shot of the Scotia Boat Too, Mr. Burgess' boat, pulling in to the pier.  The voice-over says, "Now a judge [sic, should be Special Master] is reviewing at least 31 cases of fishermen caught up in the government's net, to see if some of the fines should be returned."

Sounds good to me, Armen.  Unfortunately, since you put this piece in the can, the Secretary of Commerce has reneged on his pledge to review previous fines and has severely limited the Special Master's scope of remedies.

Congratulations, CBS.  You are the first national outlet to bring this issue before the American people.  A strong, hard-hitting piece.  The government of the United States, that is to say the American people, you and I, are driving our friends and neighbors out of business by raw power and strong arm tactics.  It needs to be stopped.  We need the help of the media.  This essay augments your excellent work and shows that if you were less constrained by time, you could have gone deeper. 

The fishermen, their families, the related dockside businesses, and the American people thank you.

Mike Johnson is a concerned citizen, a small government conservative, and a live-free-or-die resident of New Hampshire.  E-mail