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November 3, 2013

Warren set to host fishing reform hearing today

Amid a backdrop of pending aid packages for Gloucester and other Massachusetts fishermen, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has organized a listening session slated for the Massachusetts State House today on the reauthorization of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act — with Sen. Ed Markey and congressmen John Tierney and William Keating also at the table.

The hearing — which will also include Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard — is designed to rein in input from fishermen and industry advocates. Among those scheduled to testify include Brian Rothschild, who has headed up the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth marine science program and is recognized as one of the most respected and leading advocates for fishermen and the fisheries.

Warren said she hopes to hear from fishermen, shore side businesses and the local marine science community alike about how science and fisheries management can be improved to sustain what she called “the fishing culture” across the state in Gloucester, New Bedford and elsewhere.

The session comes as Congress weighs the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the law that regulates fishing across the United States. But it also comes as the state’s congressional delegation looks to reel in aid for the embattled fishing industry through a variety of sources.

The federal Small Business Administration gave its approval Friday to a low-interest loan program offering loans of up to $2 million to qualifying fishermen or fising-related businesses, with an interest rate cap of 4 percent and a duration period of up to 30 years for loans.

But lawmakers and other fishing advocates, while aknowledging the program may provide the industry with some relief, are also questioning whether it will reach many fishermen, who — while facing the sales of their boats and, in at least some Gloucester cases, their homes in the face of a federally recognized “economic disaster” — would have to apply for the money by showing a positive credit history and an ability to repay the SBA.

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