Rome: Fisheries. Constitutional responsibilities and Ambassador's letter.
When I arrived in Rome, the State Department was in the process of being sued by four environmental organizations because the State Department, and the Embassy Rome Science Office in particular, had failed to enforce the driftnet fishing regulations of the United Nations. My assistant was deeply involved in this issue and got daily updates from the trial in New York. As usual for the government, the State Department lawyers could not try the case in court; Justice Department lawyers represented the US in court supported by State Department lawyers. The reports always were that the US was winning, but when the verdict came in, the US lost. The US was ordered to make the Italians enforce the UN regulations with regard to driftnets, and the Federal District Judge in New York would ensure that it did. This meant that my office's dealings with the Italians on fisheries issues were all subject to review by the judge. The main thrust of the regulations was to limit the length of the driftnets used by Italian fishermen who were fishing for swordfish. They said Italians used driftnets that were too long and therefore caught too many swordfish, thus depleting the swordfish population.
I thought first of all that this decision was an infringement on the executive branch's authority to conduct foreign relations, although I guess it is arguable that the UN resolution was a treaty, over which the courts have authority like domestic laws. But this meant that my office's actions on fishery matters in Rome were under the constant review of a court in New York. Anyway we had a big meeting, with a huge delegation from Washington meeting with an even larger Italian delegation, which agreed on guidelines drawn up in large part by my assistant and her counterpart, who was a young staffer for the head of the Italian Agriculture Ministry division of fisheries. The linchpin of this arrangement turned out to be an Italian Greenpeace member who focused on the swordfish issue. Whenever there was an issue, it would go to the Federal Court, the court would refer it to the environmental organizations that had won the case; they in turn would ask the opinion of the Greenpeace representative in Italy. If he approved, the environmental groups would approve, and the court would approve.
Just a day or two before I was scheduled to leave Rome for retirement, the Agriculture Minister summoned the Ambassador to discuss the swordfish issue. I went along with the Ambassador because my assistant who was the expert and had negotiated the agreement was sick. The Minister said that the agreement negotiated by the delegations was not workable because it was too tough on Italian fishery enforcement personnel. It required them to do frequent, thorough inspections of driftnets, catches, etc. The majority of swordfish fishermen were based in Sicily, and they were upset at the inspections. Thus, they turned to the Mafia to get the inspectors off their backs, and the government inspectors found themselves under constant death threats from the Mafia. The Minister said it was too much to put his men in such danger; we needed to give them more leeway. He wanted to ease the terms in the agreement regarding inspections somewhat. The changes were fairly minor and the Ambassador was willing go along, but I reminded him that he didn't have authority to agree on the spot with the Minister, because any change had to be approved by the District Court, which essentially meant getting the approval of Greenpeace. The Ambassador was not happy to find his authority limited, which I must admit I stressed, because I didn't like it either. I thought the State Department (and the Ambassador) had been unfairly, perhaps unconstitutionally, placed under the authority of the judge. We got the changes approved on my last day in Rome, but the Ambassador and I parted on unfriendly terms. On my last day of active duty in the Foreign Service, he sent me a short, bitter letter criticizing my work on the driftnet matter, the only such letter I received during my career. Since I was retiring, it didn't matter to me. But to me the whole mess was another example of the fact that the government did not work correctly. I found it entirely inappropriate that Greenpeace Italy should control the American government's policy on fisheries issues, rather than my office, the Ambassador, and the fisheries officials in the State Department. In Italy, Greenpeace could not get the Italian Government to do what it wanted; so, through its American branch it sued and got US courts to order the State Department to order the Italian Government to do what Greenpeace thought it should do. I guess Greenpeace gets kudos for originality and persistence, but I don't think it says much good about the way our government works. This was an issue that Greenpeace should have worked out within the Italian Government, or between the Italian Government and the UN, without US intervention.
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