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June 8, 2013

Budget items target fish science

Three initiatives now included within the fiscal 2014 state budget hold hope for a Massachusetts fishing industry under increasing duress due to landing cuts imposed by NOAA based on controversial scientific fish stock assessments and the agency’s interpretation of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The budgeted projects, announced Friday by the Gloucester delegation of state Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, are:

The Gloucester Genomics Initiative, an effort to identify and sequence the genetic code of groundfish such as cod, allowing scientists to determine among other mysteries whether the inshore (Gulf of Maine) and offshore (Georges Bank) fish are one or separate stocks;

Experimentation in the use of sonar technology to provide real time supplemental data on the size and location of stocks in the Northwest Atlantic to be organized at the University of Massachusetts, primarily at its campus in Dartmouth, adjacent to New Bedford.

The development of plans for the recovery and survival of Gloucester, New Bedford and secondary ports that have been weakened by the radical reduction in landings ordered by the federal government.

Funding for the genome and sonar initiatives in different amounts was approved by the House and Senate versions of the budget, and await reconciliation by the Joint Conference Committee, the Gloucester lawmakers said in a briefing paper.

“We can’t stand idle in the face of the regulatory disaster that is unfolding in front of us and jeopardizing the survival of fishing ports like Gloucester, New Bedford, and those on the South Shore and Cape Cod,” Tarr, the Senate Republican minority leader. “While our state budget is only a fraction of federal spending, we are working to make a significant investment in the programs and research needed to defend the fishing industry.”

Eight months ago, the acting commerce secretary declared the Northeast groundfishery to have declined into disaster but President Obama, his administration and Congress have failed to appropriate any disaster relief. “We’re taking action now while we await federal assistance,” Tarr added.

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