Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Squelching the People’s Voice

Fenway Park seats approximately 37,000 people.

Fenway Park seats approximately 37,000 people. Twice that many people commented against plans to open areas closed to groundfishing.

How NOAA turns 75 thousand public comments into just 130

Ed. Note 4/29/13: NOAA has now updated the page for Framework 48 to reflect an accurate tally of public comments.

When fisheries officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked for public comments on a proposal to make major changes to New England’s protected waters, they got an earful. In just two weeks Americans weighed in by the tens of thousands urging NOAA to keep the groundfish closed areas intact.

More than 100 scientists signed a letter explaining the potential risk to marine ecosystems. One hundred thirty-five charter boat captains and community leaders signed another letter. In total more than 75 thousand people joined letters, emails and petitions opposing the agency’s proposal.

Six comments supported the proposal.

So despite a confusing public process and a paltry 15-day comment period, enough people to fill Fenway Park twice over took time out to participate in the public process. And by a ratio of 12 thousand to one they told NOAA to keep the closed areas closed.

But you wouldn’t know this from visiting the official public record for the proposal on the internet.

Instead, you see this:

How do more than 75 thousand voices get whittled down to 130?

Follow the asterisk for a note explaining that “…all comments received may not be posted at this time including bulk submissions.”

This does not sit well with Conservation Law Foundation Executive Vice President Sean Mahoney. “It is entirely misleading to state that only 130 comments were received when literally close to 600 times that number were in fact submitted,” Mahoney wrote in a terse letter to NOAA. “The public deserves better.”



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