Yes, New England groundfishermen, there is a Santa Claus. NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco says she's leaving the agency at the end of February to return to her family on the West Coast and academia.
It's likely a bittersweet Christmas gift for the region's groundfish harvesters. On one hand, many of them have been clamoring for her removal almost from the beginning, thanks to her zeal in forcing catch share management upon them.
On the other hand, her resignation won't improve their present lot. Next week, the New England Fishery Management Council has the unhappy task of discussing catch limit alternatives for 2013 and beyond. Given dire stock assessments for cod and yellowtail flounder, whatever catch limit alternative the council eventually selects, the news probably won't be good.
So who should Lubchenco's successor be? What we saw during her tenure was Lubchenco's desire to have NOAA rather than NMFS drive the fisheries management policy bus. Should that trend continue, would Brian Rothschild, the Montgomery Charter Professor of Marine Science of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, School for Marine Science and Technology, be a good fit?
Certainly Rothschild possesses the scientific credibility and gravitas the job requires, and the ability to work with a diverse group of stakeholders. He also has fishermen's respect, which would go a long ways towards righting their relations with the agency.
Whoever becomes Lubchenco's successor must do a better job of working with fishermen, and U.S. senators and representatives, too. And most of all, the new leader must encourage a better balance to fisheries management policy to ensure that fish and fishermen thrive. That would be the greatest Christmas gift U.S. fishermen could ever receive.