PORTLAND — President Obama’s choice for a new chief of staff may bode well for New England’s groundfishing industry, which some say lost jobs and revenue after a new management plan was implemented last spring.

William Daley, named Thursday by Obama, has a history of working with the fishing industry and with lawmakers.

In the late 1990s, when he was secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, parent agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Daley eased commercial scallop-fishing restrictions, said Brian Rothschild, professor of fisheries and oceanography at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.

“(We are) dealing with someone who understands that we are responsible and have good data. He knows what we are talking about,” U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts said of Daley.

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe also worked with Daley when he was commerce secretary.

In a prepared statement, she said the fishing industry’s problems are ongoing and difficult, but she hopes Daley’s “presence in the White House will help bring this administration a more acute understanding … of the ongoing crisis in groundfish management.”

New England’s groundfishing industry underwent major change at the start of the 2010 fishing season. Catch limits were lowered and federal regulators implemented a fishery management system based on “catch shares.”

Under the system, groundfish permit holders in the Northeast – fishermen who target species such as cod, haddock, pollock and flounder – can join cooperatives called sectors and fish under agreed restrictions. Sector fishermen are guaranteed a portion of the total quota.

Some lawmakers in New England say those changes, and years of restrictions, have hurt fishermen.

Citing statistics from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, Snowe said the number of groundfish vessels in Maine has dropped from 350 in 1990 to 70 today.

“Perhaps more painfully than any other state, Maine has felt the pinch of seemingly endless reductions in catch limits,” she said.

Frank said Massachusetts’ fishing industry also has suffered.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Frank and four other lawmakers said in December that catch shares have caused $21 million in losses and have concentrated income among fewer boats.

Frank also supported a letter from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. In the letter, Patrick asked Locke to implement emergency regulations to increase catch limits, and to provide $21 million to offset losses.

Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins also supported increased catch limits.

Locke announced Friday that catch limits will not be raised, leading Rothschild, the university professor, to speculate that lawmakers may go directly to Daley.

“The next decision point up the line is the executive office,” he said. “I would imagine some conversations and dialogue will be there, because the Obama administration wants to save jobs. This is a jobs issue, as well as a cultural issue.”

Frank said he anticipates conversations with the White House, and he will continue to push for policy changes with a coalition of like-minded lawmakers from up and down the East Coast.

In her statement, Snowe said she intends to work with colleagues to “pursue policies that will lead to more accurate and timely stock assessments, as well as greater recognition and understanding of the economic ramifications of regulatory action.”

On Wednesday, Obama signed legislation introduced by Snowe that may help the U.S. better negotiate fishing catch limits with Canada.

A few days later, a recently retired chief marine scientist with the NOAA, Steve Murawski, projected that overfishing of U.S. fish stocks will end this year.

 

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at: jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com