John Bullard had stood on every side of the fishing industry and come away with a reputation as a conciliator — which makes the former New Bedford mayor a solid choice to head the Northeast office of the agency that helps set and enforce fishing restrictions.
Over his long career, the 65-year-old Bullard has calmed down rock-throwing fishermen on strike while serving as mayor in the 1980s, argued strongly for the fishing industry as a professional lobbyist, and crafted federal policies as a Clinton-era official in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heading up the office of sustainable development.
That makes Bullard, who in recent years presided over a sea education organization, well-prepared to sit in the middle of the often emotional disputes over groundfishing limits in New England. In recent years, fishermen, backed vociferously by the Massachusetts congressional delegation, have challenged the scientific basis for fishing limits and expressed exasperation over some aspects of NOAA’s enforcement of the regulations.
Much of the rancor has been aimed at Bullard’s new boss — NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, a gifted scientist who has had difficulty reaching out to fishermen. Bullard could be her bridge. Even when Bullard was lobbying the government on behalf of fishermen, he acknowledged, “You’re not going to get any sane person to say there’s plenty of fish out there and we don’t need to do anything.” Even when he worked for NOAA in his first go-around, he acknowleged, “We can’t just concern ourselves with the management of fish. There is a human aspect to this. People’s lives, their families, the communities they live in will be affected.”
That sense of moderation should serve him well in his new post. As the state of New England’s fisheries are debated by desperate fishermen and despairing environmentalists, NOAA may have found an arbiter who actually understands both sides.