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Hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee - Commerce Secretary Nomination Hearing


Location: Washington, DC

Senator John Kerry today participated in a Commerce Committee Nomination hearing for Secretary of Commerce Nominee John Bryson. Senator Kerry highlighted the difficulties that Massachusetts fishermen have faced in recent years, and asked Bryson how he would address these issues as Secretary.

"The next Secretary has an opportunity to repair a relationship between the Department of Commerce, NOAA, and our fishing communities that has been very badly strained in these last years. The success of the fishery and its long and storied history can be ensured with your cooperation and flexibility," said Sen. Kerry.

The full text of Senator Kerry's opening statement is below:

Secretary Designate Bryson, thank you for your testimony and for your willingness to serve our nation. If you are confirmed as the next Secretary, you will be taking the helm of the Department at a critical and difficult moment -- where the decisions we make--or fail to make--on new energy sources, on infrastructure, technology, and research, will play an enormous role in our leadership role in the global economy.

You would serve as Secretary at a particularly vital time for the Information Economy. As you know, today, there is no privacy law for general commerce. Data collectors alone are setting the rules.

But due to the good work of your predecessor, the Department of Commerce is in the process of becoming a leading voice in the Administration and the nation on privacy issues. To date, the agency has taken a balanced and thoughtful approach to the challenge. In its December report is sought to meet both the need for baseline standards of protection for individuals as well as flexibility for firms in ways to meet those baseline standards and I hope you will continue to make this a priority.

We have tried to complement that work here in the Senate. In S.799, the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights, Senator McCain and I, along with Senator Klobuchar propose rules based on fair information practice principles for all collectors of information. Those basic principles include the idea that regardless of the technology or method used to track Americans, they should know when they are being tracked, why, and how long that information will be used. They should also know with whom that information will be shared and be able to reject or accept those practices. And they need legal protections if that respect is not granted to them or if those terms are violated.

The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights would allow for flexibility for industry in complying with these principles by establishing voluntary safe harbor programs to allow companies to design their own privacy programs free from prescriptive regulation if their programs reach equal levels of protection.

The Department of Commerce also plays an important role in our trade policy. And as you know, I am an outspoken supporter of ways to increase access to foreign markets for our exporters. I also appreciate the effort and time the Administration has taken to get our partners to modify their laws and regulations on labor and other issues to ensure that the pending trade agreements result in fair competition.

But it is important that we put trade and increased competition into its proper context. These agreements will not in and of themselves lead to greater prosperity. They will just give us a better chance to compete. We still need to invest in the building blocks of competitiveness -- the skills of our workers, the infrastructure of the country, and our ability to bring, retain, and reward the best brightest in the world.

I am deeply concerned about rising inequality at home and in the world. And as we move forward with more open markets and competition, we have to recognize that the wealth created has to result in improved lives for everyone, not just those at the very top.

I also want to highlight an issue at the Department which has never been more relevant or difficult for Massachusetts than these last years. It is a difficult situation which Secretary Locke inherited, and which you also would be inheriting if confirmed. Federal regulations to limit fishing have forced some fishermen out of business and pushed many more to the brink. Too many Massachusetts fishermen are doing all they can every day to keep a roof over their head and to feed their families. They are extremely frustrated about federal decisions that seem to make it more difficult for them to take care of their families.

I am extremely concerned about the rapid consolidation of the fleet under the new management system. I have worked with our fishermen to make the case that there must be more flexibility for our fishermen when implementing federal fishing regulations.

Charges by our fishermen of overzealous and intimidating tactics by the Department of Commerce personnel have been confirmed both by the Inspector General and by the Special Master. This has led to NOAA personnel being reassigned and 11 fishermen and businesses having their fines rescinded by Secretary Locke. There continues to be a justified distrust of the federal government by the fishermen -- this relationship must be repaired and trust must be restored.

In March, I met with Secretary Locke and Administrator Lubchenco to ask them to take action on a number of important issues facing our fishermen. As a result of my meeting with Secretary Locke and Administrator Lubchenco and prior efforts on the enforcement issue, the Department of Commerce and NOAA has taken the critical first steps to help resolve the outstanding issues facing our fishermen.

First, the Department of Commerce opened up an additional appeal window to allow fishermen and businesses who wish to come forward to submit a complaint to the Special Master set up after the Inspector General investigation. Commerce Secretary Locke asked Economic Development Administration (EDA) to visited fishing communities in New England and is now working in partnership with other federal agencies to identify new and existing resources to help support local communities and economic development in the region. NOAA made changes to ensure our fishermen will never again have to deal with intimidation from federal regulators. NOAA made important personnel changes and instituted a new penalty policy that will ensure that New England fishermen are not subject to unfair fines that are higher than other regions. NOAA also conducted an audit of the Asset Forfeiture Fund and eliminated a significant portion of the Fund's historical uses, such as the purchase of vehicles and vessels and the payment of travel expenses not related to investigations.

While this is a good start, there is still much more work to be done.

I continue to believe we must provide additional flexibility within the catch levels for choke stocks. I recently sent a letter with the Massachusetts Congressional delegation asking to an increase in the percentage of unmet quota that can be rolled over into the next fishing season. This request remains outstanding and it is critical that this request is addressed as quickly as possible.

We continue to await the full analysis of the economic and social data from the first fishing year 2011. I spoke with Administrator Lubchenco last week about the need to release this information as quickly as possible last. I want to work with you to ensure we have the necessary targeted, sector-level economic and social data so we can fully understand the changes happening in our fishery and make appropriate adjustments to the regulations to reduce the damage they have caused our fishermen and, at the same time, continue to build a sustainable fishery in the future.

Finally, over the past generation, we have been unable to reach agreement between the fishing industry and NOAA scientists on the stock levels for Massachusetts fisheries. I would like us to begin an important dialog to see if we can find a process to have our fishermen and NOAA scientists work together to obtain an accurate assessment of our fish stocks that everyone can agree upon. I know this will not be easily done, but further cooperation and collaboration on the science will go a long way to help bridge this gap. I have continually pushed for additional funding for cooperative research and the need to better incorporate this data when setting catch limits. It is critical that we continue to fund these initiatives and find ways to increase fishermen participation in stock assessments.

We need to work together not only to make sure our fishermen survive these difficult times - we need to make sure there are future generations of fishermen who will be a vital part of our economic future. We can only reach this goal by developing a sustainable fishery that will be healthy and profitable for generations to come.

This is an opportunity to repair a relationship between the Department of Commerce, NOAA, and our fishing communities that has been very badly strained in these last years. The success of the fishery and its long and storied history can be ensured with your cooperation and flexibility.

I would particularly like to hear your thoughts on how we might do that going forward.

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