Dr. Jane Lubchenco served as NOAA administrator under President Obama (2009-2013) and more recently (2021) joined the Biden White House as Deputy Director for Climate and Environment. If you recall, Dr. Lubchenco oversaw the unprecedented midseason recreational shutdown of black sea bass in 2009 using harvest information from the “fatally flawed” MRFSS (now MRIP) data, essentially ending our January-February sea bass fishery.
As I noted in my April 22, 2021 Editor’s Log (The Lubchenco Is Back) despite being run out of Washington “due to her cold, calculated, and callous treatment of coastal fishermen, Dr. Lubchenco was just welcomed back with open arms as the new deputy director for climate and the environment.” As I also correctly surmised, “things are about to get a bit sporty.”
On the same day that NOAA Fisheries declared that recreational porgy fishing in federal waters would remain open, the Biden administration also announced plans to turn the Hudson Canyon into a national marine sanctuary. As the Washington Post reported, “the push to add it to the National Marine Sanctuary System reflects the Biden administration’s broader effort to safeguard critical habitat threatened by development and global warming by conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030.” Meanwhile the New York Times said “the designation is not expected to interfere with offshore wind turbines,” while reporting absolutely nothing about fishing or fishermen. As they say, the devil is in the details.
A huge proponent of marine reserves, Dr. Luchenco once led a major study in support of marine reserves (also called ‘no-take’ marine protected areas) which would prohibit extractive activities along large bodies of water. In fact it was Dr. Luchenco who famously coined the “20% by 2020” phrase in 1997 calling for 20% of the world’s oceans to be protected through marine reserves by 2020. Just a week into office, President Biden upped that ante by signing an executive order calling for the protection of 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030 (30 by 30).
The good doctor was not popular with many fishermen during her Obama days; part of the distrust stemming from Dr. Lubchenco’s rather dubious connections to environmental hucksterism. Just two years ago, the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) was forced to retract a peer-reviewed article titled “A Global Network of Marine Protected Areas for Food” which was co-authored by Steven Gaines because Dr. Lubchenco – the handling PNAS editor at the time – had a personal relationship the author, which is “disallowed by PNAS editorial policies.” Gaines and Lubchenco are brother and sister-in-law; Lubchenco was also one of Gaines’ PhD advisors and the pair have co-authored several articles supporting marine protected areas or MPAs.
Do MPAs work? Depends of course on who you ask. But according to a 2019 article from the Yale School of the Environment, “In the last decade, governments have been pushing to create vast Marine Protected Areas large enough to protect species from overfishing and other threats. But critics are questioning whether the creation of these large protected areas is driven more by geopolitics than conservation.”
One more item of angling interest from the Biden administration on June 8 (see News Briefs for more) and that’s a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to prohibit lead fishing tackle on certain National Wildlife Refuges throughout the United States. As Mike Leonard at the American Sportfishing Association put it, “the proposed rule would arbitrarily ban lead fishing tackle in several refuges based on unfounded and overgeneralized assumptions.”
So we got our federal porgy fishery, but “unfounded and overgeneralized assumptions” could restrict our Hudson Canyon fishery while inflicting onerous new angling regulations on federal lands. As the title suggests, one step up, two steps back; or as I opined last year, don your life jackets, the Lubchenco is back!