The story broke beyond a few fishing blogs late this week, with coverage in the Seattle Times and elsewhere:
Federal fish cops in Seattle bought a $300,000 luxury boat to spy on whale-watching tours — but didn’t go through an appropriate bidding process, held barbecues onboard, ferried friends and family across Puget Sound to restaurants and resorts, and used the boat for what one visitor called “a pleasure cruise.”
When confronted, one federal employee in Seattle misled inspectors about how the vessel was used, and one interfered with federal investigators, according to an internal investigation by the Commerce Department. Those documents were released Friday by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.
At issue is a 35-foot, 14-passenger boat purchased by federal agents with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) using money seized from fishermen who violated the law.
The 2008 purchase wasn’t illegal, according to the Commerce Department, but federal agents manipulated the acquisition process and misrepresented the urgency and need for the vessel.
Brown is calling for NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco to step down:
On Friday, Brown said the boat was a symbol of wasteful Washington spending and NOAA’s damaged relationship with fishermen.
Brown repeated his request that President Obama fire NOAA Chief Jane Lubchenco.
“This needs to change and accountability starts at the top,” he said. “If not now, when? If not for this, then for what?”
NOAA said it has completely overhauled its enforcement program since the inspector general’s findings.
Why is it being called a “party boat”?
The first time a fisheries-service agent boarded the boat in June 2008, he brought his wife and a friend. They ran out of gas, called Seattle Harbor Patrol and had to be towed back to the Ship Canal.
They refueled and motored the boat through the Ballard Locks to the dockside Boat Shed Restaurant in Bremerton, had dinner and then returned to Seattle.
A month later the same agent took the boat to Poulsbo for lunch and went back to Seattle. He picked up some friends who brought aboard a six-pack of beer and sped down to Gig Harbor for dinner at Tides Tavern. One passenger told investigators the trip was “every bit a pleasure cruise.”
A few days later, the same employee briefly got stranded in the boat in a shipping lane while taking his wife to a restaurant in Everett.
Twice that summer, while the boat was moored at Elliott Bay Marina, a fisheries-service employee grilled burgers and hot dogs with a small group that included at least two other special agents. A supervisor told an employee his wife could come aboard any time and “kick back and watch TV.” One agent later told investigators the gatherings kept up the vessel’s appearance as a recreational boat and not an unmarked-police vessel.
Once in August 2008, the boat ferried around a special agent’s visiting parents, eventually dropping them off at the Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, Whatcom County. The boat that day blew out a $10,000 engine as a result of what investigators called “operator error.” The boat’s first use in an actual undercover capacity didn’t take place until the next summer.
When internal investigators learned about the boat in 2010, one employee gave such contradictory answers, investigators called the statement “disingenuous and not credible.”[emphases added]
Here’s Brown’s C-SPAN moment on this:
Back in late 2008, when Obama announced Lubchenco’s appointment to head NOAA, I was thrilled. How novel, I thought, compared to Bush, for Obama to hire a scientist to head a scientific agency. Some of my friends were more wary, predicting that her time at the Pew Charitable Trust would propel her relentlessly toward privatization of collective fishery resources. When, on a visit to Nome in mid-2009, Lubchenco professed to not know anything about the serious depletion of Yukon River King salmon through bottom fish trawler bycatch, I began getting more wary of her professionalism.
Later in August 2009, I confronted Lubchenco and others on Obama’s so-called Oceans Task Force, to fix the salmon depletion problem or face the curse of history:
This testimony is offered in memory of Segundo Strongheart of Nunam Iqua, who passed away early this past Tuesday, as he struggled to support his family and heritage.
My name is Philip Munger. I live in Wasilla, and teach cultural history at the University of Alaska Anchorage. I’m best known as a composer of “classically-based” music. In 36 years in Alaska, I have also worked in many other fields, including a 26-year relationship with commercial fishing or other blue water maritime activities. I have a strong love of science, and have raised my two kids to be scientists: One is now a graduate of the Huxley School of Environmental Science. The other is pursuing studies at Humboldt State University in green fisheries restoration.
I’ve observed the degradation of the overall habitat upon and around the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, as the ongoing catastrophe has accelerated. It is increasingly clear that unless something radical is done soon to assure far higher returns of salmon to these and other areas, the runs will be ruined forever.
Of particular concern is the decimation of the Yukon River Chinook and Chum salmon stocks. I am one who strongly believes the bycatch paradigm of the Bering Sea trawlers has crossed the area from very poor policy to cultural genocide.
Salmon are the basis of some of the most beautiful, long-lasting and resilient of the world’s existing cultures. The Yupik are emblematic.
• When the Phoenicians and others were cutting down the vast cedar forests in Lebanon, the Yupik were beginning to fish the lower Yukon.
• When the Roman Empire and vernacular Latin were dying, people had been speaking a language today’s Yupik would recognize as their own for over a thousand years.
• When the Norse navigated the North Atlantic, the Volga and the Black Sea, the Yupik were expanding up the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers.
• When a language we can now recognize as English began to exist, Yupik culture was thousands of years old.
Yet, within the mere past 25 years, the foundation of this vibrant culture has been ripped apart.
I have never seen a better example of how cross-governmental jurisdictional problems can be used by an industry to destroy one of America’s first peoples.
Nancy Sutley – Dr. Jane Lubchenco – David Hayes – Admiral Thad Allen – Heather Zichal — and, YES – Sen. Mark Begich and President Barack Obama:
Unless you act very soon, and very, very sternly to end the depredation of the Bering Sea and other Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries, the miserable survivors of this once-proud, vibrant culture, will soon sing imprecatory, damning songs to your eternal memories, blaming you for their Holocaust.
Lubchenco’s reign at NOAA has been increasingly criticized. Obama’s proposed reorganization of several Federal departments includes the possibility of moving NOAA from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Interior:
When President Obama last spring released a video soliciting ideas on modernizing government to better compete in the 21st century economy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was about to get thrown into the mix. “Move NOAA from DOC to DOI,” read a suggestion tagged No. 1979 and ranked No. 1439 in the White House compilation. “I think it paints a bad picture when we are supposed to be managing and conserving marine resources and we are under the Department of COMMERCE” rather than the Interior Department, an anonymous NOAA employee said in the submission.
Months later, after a lengthy consultation process, such a transfer ended up a part of the Obama administration’s proposal to seek congressional approval of authority to consolidate six major business and trade agencies.
It makes sense, so it probably won’t happen. In regard to fisheries, the big ocean pirates that represent the offshore trawl industry do not want NOAA moved, as they’re able to manipulate the regulatory regimes there very well under Lubchenco’s unwatchful eye.
Both of Alaska’s U.S. senators (Alaska area catch of seafood represents half of U.S. landings) are deeply indebted to the 1%ers who run our offshore vacuum cleaning trawl fleets. Lisa Murkowski even coddled her fisheries assistant, Arne Fuglvog, after her staff knew he was about to be indicted for years’ worth of criminal fisheries violations. Mark Begich, mouthing the desires of the ocean pirates, defended keeping NOAA in the hands of Commerce’s corrupt paradigm:
On Capitol Hill, a skeptical view came from Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard. On Jan. 13, he said he was “not sure burying NOAA in an already overburdened Interior is a good idea.” Noting Alaska is “producer of more than half of the nation’s seafood,” he said, “the proper management of our fisheries is vital to thousands of jobs in Alaska and to protecting this precious resource . . . I’ll be asking tough questions as this proposal moves forward.”
Tough questions like “Do you know the mailing address of my PAC?”