U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and three representatives, including John Tierney, today asked President Obama to intervene to bring about a fisheries disaster declaration and emergency aid for Massachusetts fishermen which has been "stalled" in the Commerce Department for almost two years.
The letter comes one day after Gov. Deval Patrick released a similar letter mailed to Acting Commerce Secretary Roberta Blank.
Along with Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, the representatives who signed the letter were Barney Frank, who represents New Bedford, and William Keating, who represents the ports of Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod.
The congressional delegation has become increasingly frustrated by the lack of any response to calls and letters since the governor filed his most recent formal request for a fisheries failure declaration last November. About that time, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, appearing at a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing in Boston, promised to put the application on a fast track and get the state a rapid response.
The letter by Kerry, Brown and the congressmen marked the first time an appeal for aid was directed to the president himself, and it draws him into a fierce struggle over policies for fisheries management that he set into motion with the nomination of Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Lubchenco made privatizing of the fisheries a national policy and said she wanted to see a "sizable fraction of the fleet removed," which has occurred, helping to bring about the crisis that led to the unanswered appeals for federal disaster relief.
The governor and the lawmakers each noted that the administration has been responsive to the needs of the farming industry during the drought
"We are concerned that recent efforts by your administration to provide disaster relief for agricultural producers, including catfish farmers, affected by drought throughout the United States did not include assistance for the hardworking fishermen and fishing communities in New England," the federal lawmakers from Massachusetts wrote.
"In light of the deepening disaster faced by Massachusetts fishing communities, we write today to again express our support for a disaster declaration and federal assistance for New England fishermen," they continued.
The congressional campaign has remained bi-partisan, and with co-signers Kerry, a Democrat, and Brown, a Republican, the renewed effort has no partisan element to it.
"Over the past two years, federal fishing regulators have stalled similar disaster declaration requests from New England states," they wrote to the president. It was at an October 2011 congressional hearing that Lubchenco promised to put Patrick’s disaster declaration request on the "fast track." Since then other New England states have filed similar requests.
"Earlier this month, we again urged the Department of Commerce and NOAA to declare a disaster and put together a plan to provide meaningful relief. The Massachusetts fishing industry has been devastated in recent years and the situation for our fishing communities is becoming increasingly desperate," the lawmakers wrote.
"According to recent estimates, annual catch limits for several important groundfish species next year could be reduced by between 45 percent and 73 percent," they said. "This unwelcome news comes at a time when the fleet size has already been decimated by NOAA regulations that have smaller independent operators and fishing communities struggling to survive. More than a third of the New England fleet stands idle and a centuries-old industry is at risk of collapse."
"While the focus continues to be on the situation facing our farmers and ranchers, the lack of recognition and corresponding help for New England fails to recognize our fishermen who endure harsh conditions and put their personal safety at risk to put food on our tables."
For more coverage of this story, look to tomorrow’s print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times, and gloucestertimes.com.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.