GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 24, 2013

Lawmakers join push for SBA fish aid

By Sean Horgan
Staff Writer

---- — The Massachusetts congressional delegation made it a clean sweep Monday, joining Gov. Deval Patrick in requesting the Small Business Administration provide all possible financial assistance to Bay State commercial fishermen and fishing-related businesses.

In a show of unity, the full delegation signed a letter to SBA director Frank Skaggs supporting Patrick’s certification of the widespread negative economic impact suffered by small businesses in six Massachusetts counties — including Essex County, with Gloucester, all of Cape Ann and Newburyport — in the wake of the 2012 federally declared fishery resource disaster.

“Our fishermen and fishing communities have been struggling to survive amid reductions in some annual catch limits that have limited fishing opportunities,” the letter states. “As a result, many fishermen are drawing on personal income or extended credit, shifting more fishing costs to crew, shrinking crew size or postponing vessel maintenance.”

That assistance, if approved by the SBA, would come from low-interest loans to eligible fishermen and fishing-related businesses through the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

“Our fishermen and fishing-related businesses need SBA assistance as they work to adjust to a perfect storm of events that threatens the future of one of our nation’s oldest and most storied industries and the coastal communities that depend on it,” the letter states.

The SBA said last week it is reviewing Massachusetts’ request for assistance.

The letter, spearheaded by U. S. Sen. Edward Markey, sought to detail the dire condition of the state’s commercial fishing industry after NOAA began slashing 2013 annual catch limits — or ACLs — for cod, yellowtail, haddock and plaice.

“It is likely that these reduced ACLs will be in place for several years, further compounding the impact of these cuts to the industry,” the letter said.

The letter did not go as far as comments last week by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who ascribed part of the blame for the fishery resource disaster to the federal government for its uncertain science in fish-stock assessments and its disregard for standards in the federal Magnuson Stevens Act that require consideration of NOAA’s policies and actions on fishing communities like Gloucester.

The Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition complimented the state’s congressional members Monday for joining forces in the letter, saying it represents “unwavering support” for the state’s groundfish industry and the Massachusetts coastal communities that depend upon it.

“(The letter) reaffirms their commitment to help Massachusetts fishermen,” the coalition said in a statement. “NSC is hopeful that the SBA disaster assistance programs will add an important component to a larger need for direct financial assistance.”

Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT