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.
Another aid package targeting the industry calls for making up to $10 million in NOAA money available through the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act to applicants with proposals to upgrade and transition the fishing industry and working waterfronts for the future. And NOAA officials are sifting through 261 applications from across the country, including seven grant proposals from six applicants out of Gloucester.
But others have noted that the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act calls for 30 percent of all seafood import tariff money to be steered toward the fishing industry — a figure that, according to 2012 tariff figures, would amount to more than $100 million. Over the years, that fishery aid money has instead been funneled into NOAA’s operation budget — a scenario that both Tierney and Warren are seeking to reform.
A bill filed by Tierney and still pending in the U.S. House calls for the permanent return of the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act to its original intent of steering the funds generated by the tariffs to fund research grants and other programs.
Warren, meanwhile, is seeking to reform the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act funding formula through a reform of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
“Sen. Warren strongly supports reforming NOAA and the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act,” Warren spokeswoman has told the Times. “During the current reauthorization process of the Magnuson Stevens Act, Sen. Warren is working with colleagues and constituents on making reforms that address the fishing industry as a whole and the many problems that have plagued the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act.”