Don’t use the words COVID or coronavirus anymore. That’s the directive the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has given some of its employees.
In a memo dated June 22, the agency provided new guidance for how its employees can word in-season fishery rule changes or other in-season announcements affecting the federal fisheries -- including Alaska pollock and Atlantic scallops, just to name a couple -- managed by the agency's eight regional fisheries management councils.
The release of the memo comes as the Trump Administration continues to downplay the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, despite rising numbers of cases and deaths across the country.
Minimizing the effects of the pandemic confuses the public and amounts to “denial,” Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska told National Public Radio. Begich formerly chaired the Senate subcommittee with oversight of NMFS.
The memo outlines three options NMFS employees can use to avoid referring to the coronavirus in official announcements related to changes in fishing regulations and other in-season fishing adjustments.
Option 1, the agency’s “preferred approach” instructs employees to: ”Make no reference to anything COVID related.”
The agency explains the reasoning behind this option this way: “This option assumes that the action can be supported by using facts, impacts, etc., that we would also use under normal circumstances. For this option, focus on the specific facts, impacts, etc., that have resulted in needing to take action. No reference to any stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, or anything COVID related is needed."
And NMFS headquarters provides the following example of how to sanitize federal announcements to make them free of the words COVID or coronavirus and compliant with Option 1: “Since [insert appropriate timeframe - e.g., mid-June], the fishery has experienced: [insert specific facts, impacts, etc. - e.g., disruptions to market, crew members unable to access the ports, closures of harbors and boat ramps, disruptions to obtaining needed supplies to go fishing]. As a result, NMFS is [insert what we’re doing - e.g., implementing this emergency rule; modifying trip limits; increasing season length; taking appropriate action].”
The third option allows for extremely limited use of COVID-19 or the word pandemic and only if approved by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs Sam Rauch, the No. 2 executive at NMFS.
I can't make this stuff up. Read the memo yourself here.
By way of explaining the memo, NMFS said the internal guidance document was "intended solely to ensure efficient, consistent and prompt implementation of any measures needed to respond to the ongoing pandemic."
"The agency has worked diligently and deliberately to ensure appropriate accommodations are made to respond to COVID-19 impacts on the fishing industry and has been consistently posting COVID-19 information on a variety of industry-related issues on its website," NMFS told me.
This doesn't really explain why NMFS wants to avoid using what are arguably the two most used words in the world right now. It would be nice to know who ordered NMFS to write this memo. But does anyone doubt that a White House that has bungled and politicized the COVID-19 response is responsible?
"As long as its decision making and its communications are science-based we don’t have a comment on how it internally manages references to COVID-19," the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) told me.
This won't impact the actual operation of fisheries, of course, but it does erode trust in yet another federal agency responsible for keeping American running, an agency grounded in science.
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