By Sarah Birnbaum | Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Feb. 15, 2011
BOSTON — President Barack Obama unveiled his budget plan yesterday for the upcoming fiscal year. It cuts back or eliminates some 200 federal programs -- and municipal officials in Massachusetts say they'll feel the pain.
The budget is a mixed bag for Bay State, according to UMass Boston economist Christian Weller. He says the budget would preserve or expand funding for education and clean energy. Massachusetts, with its strong academic and tech sectors, could benefit from those investments.
"The good news for Massachusetts is continued spending in innovation, more money in research and development, particularly for renewable energies, more money for education, especially in k-12 and more support in college education," Weller said.
But experts say the budget also contains some bad news for the state: Proposed cutbacks in heating assistance for poor families would disproportionately affect New England, where winters are cold, although some observers say Congress is unlikely to accept the President's proposed $2 billion or more cut in the program.
And Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, says the president's planned reduction in so-called community development block grants would be particularly painful for Massachusetts cities and towns. Beckwith says the grants fund a wide range of neighborhood improvements, everything from road repairs, to the Boys and Girls club to senior housing.
“So we’re talking about basic human services, leveraging housing, leveraging job creation, economic development projects. These funds are irreplaceable really,” Beckwith said.
President Obama’s budget proposal is just the first move in the Capitol Hill spending debate. Republicans are calling for even steeper cuts.
By Adam Reilly | Friday, February 11, 2011
Feb. 11, 2011
BOSTON — Back in the Colonial era, the Massachusetts Governor’s Council had plenty of clout. Lately, though, it’s acquired a reputation as an antiquated, do-nothing body. Now, calls are mounting to eliminate the Council altogether.
So it may not be a coincidence that the Council has been making life increasingly difficult for Gov. Deval Patrick.
This week, the Governor’s Council nearly rejected Gov. Patrick’s judicial nominee Heather Bradley, showcasing its penchant for political fireworks. At one point, Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney waxed indignant about money that Bradley and her husband, State Rep. Garrett Bradley, have lavished on Massachusetts politicians.
“$210,00 dollars just in the past 3 years. How egregious is this?” Devaney asked.
Devaney also turned up the heat on her colleague at the council, Kelly Timilty, who got some of the Bradleys’ cash.
“I will respectfully request Councilor Timilty again to recuse herself from this vote,” Devaney said.
“I will not!” Timilty answered.
“As it would give the appearance of undo influence,” Deveney said, as Timilty shrugged.
Next up was newly elected Republican Councilor Charles Cipollini, who’s quickly earning a reputation for high drama. His commentary on Bradley didn’t disappoint.
“She is grossly unqualified and she lacks the experience,” Cipollini said, almost glowering.
For good measure, Cipollini vowed to continue his anti-Bradley fight even if she became a judge.
“I will file a complaint with the Massachusetts state ethics commission regarding the over $200,000 dollars she and her husband made in political contributions. My vote is no!” Cipollini added.
After the council split four-to-four, Governor Patrick took the gavel so Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray could cast the deciding vote.
He voted yes.
It was the first 5-4 vote in years, and grist for critics who say the Council is a needless impediment. The Boston Globe and the liberal blog Blue Mass. Group say the council should be eliminated. And a new bill from State Senator Brian Joyce would do just that. But supporters like the Fatherhood Coalition’s Joe Ureneck disagree.
“Finally the council is having some real discussion about these judicial nominations that are coming forward, instead of just being a rubber stamp,” Ureneck argued.
Next up for the Council: A vote on Joshua Wall, the governor’s pick to head the state’s troubled Parole Board. If you like political theater, make sure to bring some popcorn.
By Sarah Birnbaum | Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Feb. 9, 2011
BOSTON — Governor Deval Patrick's tenure in office — now beginning its second term — might have been only weeks long.
|The governor and his wife, Diane, attended a state dinner together in 2010. (AP)|
That's because the governor considered resigning shortly after he took office, according to his soon-to-be-released memoir.
In the book, he wrote that his wife, Diane, was battling depression in early 2007, as Patrick was navigating his first weeks on the job. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Speaking Wednesday, Patrick said they weren't sure if they could weather four years in public life.
"I’m honored to have this job. I love doing it. Even on the hardest day, it’s a privilege. But my family comes first. And the period that was reported on was a particularly challenging time in our family but we worked our way through it," Patrick said.
Patrick has said he'll serve out the entirety of his second term, countering speculation he might leave office early to run for Senate in 2012.
By Jess Bidgood and Sarah Birnbaum | Thursday, February 3, 2011
Feb. 3, 2011
BOSTON — After almost 20 years in office, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank announced Thursday that he's ready for more.
The 70-year-old representative from Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District said in a statement that he won't retire in 2012, ending speculation that he might make an exit ahead of a redistricting process in which Massachusetts will lose one seat in the House.
"There are a couple of issues that I care very deeply about that are in dispute right now," Frank said during an interview with WGBH. "And I think if I were to be seen as someone planning to get out within two years, or if there was uncertainty, it would weaken my impact."
Frank said he wants to spend more time in office defending the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which he helped pass as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, a position he lost when Republicans gained majority control of the House in the 2010 elections.
"I'm proud of the bill we passed, it took a lot of work, I think it will do a great deal to diminish the liklihood of another financial crash, it protects consumers, it will regulate derivatives, but the Republican majority in the House has already begun to undermine it," Frank said. "I think it is very important that we stay there and protect it."
Frank said he also wants to continue his efforts to cut the U.S. budget deficit by reducing military spending. "We go far beyond what we need to defend ourselves," Frank said.
Frank said he'll also be working on his continued opposition to aspects of federal regulation in East Coast waters.
None of the other sitting representatives have announced plans to step down, which means the state still has 10 members who could be vying for nine seats come 2012.
Frank says he's not worried about a redistricting battle. He's been there before. He was in office when Massachusetts lost a seat in 1982. "They drew up a district that was determined, supposedly, to defeat me. I thought it would, for a variety of reasons I managed to survive it. I understand the ins and outs of redistricting," Frank said.
In some ways, Frank’s district would have been ripe for elimination. It’s one of the most irregularly shaped districts in the country and, arguably would be easy to parcel out among adjacent districts.
But Frank’s stature in Congress may insulate his district from the axe.
Now experts say the most vulnerable Congressional seats are in Western Massachusetts – seats long held by John Olver of Amherst and his neighbor, Richard Neal of Springfield.
The 1st and 2nd districts are geographically large, but population growth has been stagnant and redistricting strategists say it makes sense to combine them.
But like Barney Frank, Neal and Olver say they have no plans to step down, ensuring a tense task for the Legislature’s redistricting committee.
Read the full statement:
I will be running for re-election to the House of Representatives in 2012.
While I would have preferred to put off a discussion about the next election until a later date, I have been asked on a number of occasions about my plans. In addition, I have become convinced that making my decision to run for re-election known is important for maximizing the impact I can have on the range of issues to which I am committed. These issues require a time commitment longer than the next two years.
There are two issues in particular that are of central importance. The first is to defend the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which will substantially diminish the likelihood of the risky and irresponsible behavior which led to the current economic crisis. The law is already under attack by those who oppose meaningful regulation and who would undermine it, either by pressuring regulators to weaken the law or by underfunding agencies such as the SEC and CFTC which are charged with administering it. The House Republican leadership has been very explicit about this, specifically targeting stronger regulation of derivatives, the independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and restrictions on excessively risky behavior by federally-insured banks. If these opponents of reform are successful, it will put American workers and families at risk of suffering the effects of another economic meltdown. I intend to do everything in my power to fight their efforts.
My second national priority is to reduce significantly America’s swollen, unnecessary, worldwide military footprint – this is the only way to reconcile the need for us to spend wisely, to promote our economy and to accomplish substantial deficit reduction. Failure to address excessive military spending will either add to the deficit or force cuts in education, police, fire, transportation, scientific research, food safety, and infrastructure investment. The disparity between the cost of America’s legitimate security needs and the money we spend to maintain a worldwide military presence is the single greatest obstacle to responsible deficit reduction. While in the past it has appeared to be politically impossible to make reasonable cuts to excessive military spending, there are recent encouraging signs, including the bipartisan work I have done with Congressman Ron Paul. I will continue to make this a major part of my work in order to improve our economy and preserve our quality of life.
While these two issues are central to our ability to return to a full-employment economy while protecting our quality of life, there are other national and regional issues on which I will be working as well -- protecting the fishing industry in Massachusetts from arbitrary, unjust and unfair actions; fighting for full legal equality for all citizens; providing for the housing needs of low-income people, not by pushing them unwisely and unsustainably into homeownership, but rather by building affordable rental housing; and helping local communities provide a level of service adequate to the needs of their residents.
By Phillip Martin | Friday, August 27, 2010
Brother fishermen Tim and Ed Barrett. Photo: Phillip Martin
Wife and husband Kirsten and Reidar Bendiksen run Reidar’s Manufacturing, a small commercial fishing gear store in New Bedford. The store also serves as a place for fishermen to stop and talk shop while they wait for their order. Photo: Phillip Martin
Phillip Martin – senior investigative reporter
Rachel Gotbaum – reporter
Steve Young – editor and executive producer
Katie Broida – photographer and researcher
Nic Campos – researcher
Jane Pipik - engineer
By Phillip Martin | Friday, August 27, 2010
A report released this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, shows that New England fishermen have brought in 10 percent less fish than they did a year ago. However, revenues are up by 17 percent since new fishing rules went into effect on May 1st. Under the new regulations, fishemen work in groups to land a maximum amount of groundfish, like haddock and flounder. Despite this revenue increase, commercial anglers up and down the east coast complain that the rules are putting a good number of them out of business. Development of the new system is part of an ongoing effort to conserve North Atlantic fish stocks and is based in part on the findings of scientists. Those conclusions have often led to conflict with fishermen and their supporters who question the validity of the data, research, and methodology
The question, “How many fish are in the sea?” never quite rang with the same profundity as questions like, “who are we?” or “where do we come from?” But fish population numbers have long intrigued marine biology scientists, and fishermen whose futures are determined by the answers to this query. That question took on special urgency in the 1980s and early 90s with the expansion of the American fishing fleet in the Atlantic and the invention of new technologies. It wasn’t long before environmentalists, scientists, and fishermen all noticed a dramatic decline in fish stocks.
Fisherman Glen Libby has been fishing off the coast of Maine for 40 years, and with a device called a video sounder, he could actually see the fish beneath the waves. He noticed that they were coming closer and closer to shore. Libby says, “people started to figure out that we can start catching fish year round. What was happening was these fish had sort of sanctuary and they would make a spawning run. That’s when we were catching them, which was not the best idea, but they would come close to shore. This way, it became apparent that you could fish year round.”
Libby explains that the consequences of year round fishing were huge. He says, “it cleaned up the fish offshore, and if you cleaned those up in the winter time then there was nothing left in the spring and the whole spawning cycle is broken. The fish declined. They stop coming inshore. We would steam 12 to 15 miles in March to start out fishing. Guys will stay out in March right now, steam 100 miles and catch less in three or four days than what they caught in one day [back then].”
Researchers in Woods Hole, Massachusetts came to a similar conclusion. Their findings influenced policy makers to institute a number of regulations to halt overfishing in the Atlantic. These regulations included ones like Days at Sea, which restricted the number of days fishermen could work, and the most recent rule changes called “sectors”.
Underlying all their research is the question “how many fish are in the sea?” The answer comes about in a series of steps. Dr. Russell Brown, the lead scientist for the ecosystem survey program at NOAA’s North East Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, explains the general approach. He says, “In essence what we’re trying to do is really to measure trends in abundance, biomass, geographical distribution, and also the size and age composition of populations in an unbiased way.”
Scientists Russell Brown (left) and Jay Burnett. Photo: WGBH
Brown works with a team of scientist that also includes Jay Burnett, the leader of the fishery biology program. Burnett says, “99% of the work that my group does is the aging of fish. We take parts of fish, like bones and organs, and prepare them for age determination. From the age compositions you can begin to estimate mortality rates, for example.” Dr. Christopher Legault works alongside them in the population dynamics Center. He says that, “What we do is conduct the stock assessments, which pull together the data from Russell's group, the observer group, Jay's group, plus all the catch info from the fishermen, and combine them in computer models that try and relate all these different pieces to estimate how many fish are out in the sea.”
Another way to look at it, says Dr. Russell Brown, is to think of fish surveying as a political poll. He explains that, “You'll see the political poll will say that we sampled a thousand adults, and we’re going to infer from there how 350 million people are going to vote. We do it similarly [with the fish], and then we randomly sample within each of those areas.” That poll, according to statistics supplied by the New England Fishery Management Council, today shows 11 species of groundfish to be overfished, including witch flounder and ocean pout.
As in politics, not everyone agrees with how the fish population poll was conducted. Tim Barrett is the captain of the Odessa and has been fishing commercially for more than 20 years. Barrett, who studied marine biology at the University of Rhode Island, says fishermen often have a better knowledge of the sea and a clearer idea of what is overfished or underfished than many government scientists. He believes that “a vast number of the people out here [fishing] today are college graduates that have degrees in history and business and science. So when you get some of these scientists, it’s not too hard for these people to decipher what they’re talking about or they can come up with better ways of doing it.”
Dr. Russell Brown at Woods Hole says they work cooperatively with fishermen but, “the reality is fishermen and scientists have different objectives in terms of why we're out there. That's why we're fishing in areas sometimes where fishermen don't think fish are. We're aware of that, but we need to be sure of where they are and where they aren’t.” To create a sustainable fish food supply, marine scientists say it is also essential to understand what fishermen are hauling in from the ocean and what they’re throwing back into its depths.
Discarded fish brings up the role of the “observer.” Jason Dean is a tall, lanky self-effacing guy. His young career has consisted of hopping on and off fishing boats here in New Bedford over the past ten years. Despite his experience, he is not exactly welcomed with open arms by many ship crews and their captains, who often see observers as a nuisance aboard already crowded ships. Jason Dean supervises observers for a private contractor that works with NOAA. He sees his own role as essential in monitoring catch levels on behalf of science. Dean says his job is “when the net comes up, after being drug along the ocean for however long they choose, maybe one hour maybe a few hours, they bring the net back up and empty all the catch out. The crew takes out kept stuff and I sort all the discards. Anything they don’t want from crabs to small cod or haddock, I weigh it, length it, and get rid of it. Jason Dean believes that observers play an important function in helping to replenish the Atlantic. But many along this dock see observers as the eyes and ears of government regulators.
Dr. Brian Rothschild, however, is viewed quite differently. Rothschild is a noted Professor of Marine Science and Technology at UMass Dartmouth and a self-described “friend of fishermen.” He says his disagreement with scientific colleagues is largely over how some fish are counted, and he cites cod as an example, “The fact of the matter is that over the past several years we’ve tagged perhaps 30,000 cod. We have several thousand recoveries. And so the cod swim back and forth between the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, between Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and the Scotian Shelf, Georges Bank and the Bay of Fundy, so it’s not clear that there are separate populations of cod. So if it’s not clear that there are separate populations of cod, then any stock assessment could be overestimating or underestimating the cod populations and so the cod population may not be overfished right now.”
Government scientists, whose work often forms the inertia for fisheries policies, admit that there is always an element of uncertainty in some findings. Writer Paul Greenberg in his new book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, blames scientists for playing a major role in overfishing cod by promoting the idea that there was an infinite number of fish in the sea. Now, some critics believe government scientists have gone 180 degrees in an assessment that laments the massive depletion of Atlantic groundfish stocks.
For his part, Dr. Russell Brown says his team of scientists in Woods Hole work hard to deliver unbiased information that reflects hard facts, empirical evidence and data that is tested and tested and tested again. He says that when his team puts out positive information that argues for lifting restrictions on fishermen, no one really questions the science. Dr. Brown cites the example of “the Bottom Trawl Survey, [which] in the autumn of 2003 found the largest haddock year class in 30 years on Georges Bank. When we put out that information based on one survey, there was a great deal of uncertainty. Nobody questioned this because it was very good news.”
Gloucester fisheman at work. Photo: WGBH
New Bedford fisherman, Antonio Pereira, is one person who does give credit to government scientists for the work they do. He blames neither them nor observers for the new federal regulations that he says have kept his boat, the Blue Seas II, tied up at the dock since April. He says, “They are doing the best job that they can and they are trying to collect as much data as they can, and I guess we will show what we’re doing out there and what is right and what is wrong.” What is wrong, says Pereira, is that massive tons of fish are being thrown back into the sea. Pereira says from the point of view of fishing families, it seems like a waste. And, he believes, it also seems to make no sense scientifically, “That fish could be brought in. It’s one of the things they have to work on more harder than they’re working on so far.”
Some fishermen say they are doing better under sectors than they did with the Days at Sea system. Peter Libro fishes in Gloucester. He says under sectors he is getting paid more for his fish and the new rules are more flexible and more economical. He can now catch more fish per trip. He explains, "it has made us more efficient because under the Days at Sea trip limits you could go out and catch 800 pounds of fish and that was it, but it would cost $200 worth of fuel. Now with the same $200 worth of fuel, you can catch 2,000 pounds."
Supporter of sectors say it has worked in other parts of the country. John Sackton is editor of Seafood News, and he points out that "if you look at salmon, for example, in Alaska, one of the first things they put in their state constitution was to put strict limits on salmon fishing. Today, they have the biggest salmon runs that they’ve had in a hundred years." However, even fans of the new regulations say they could lead to the further demise of the small boat fishing fleet unless protections are put in place.
Gloucester fisherman Peter Libro worries about his future, but he says he is going to try to hang on. He explains, "the reason I am optimistic is because I think the stocks are going to get better and stronger in this system. I think it will be tough for a few years, but I think once things get stronger our allocation will come up. I think it will be more viable again to be a fisherman." While Libro and other New England fishermen try to adapt to their new way of life, Massachusetts lawmakers have asked the Obama administration for $150 million in immediate aid to help those fishermen hurt by the new regulations.
Part One | Part Two | Part Four | Part Five
"Rough Waters: The Ongoing Fight Over Regulating New England Fisheries" is a multi-part series produced by 89.7 WGBH Radio.
Phillip Martin – senior investigative reporter
Rachel Gotbaum – reporter
Steve Young – editor and executive producer
Katie Broida – researcher
Nic Campos – researcher
Robin Moore - engineer