By Richard Gaines
---- — Congressman John Tierney today announced a plan to file legislation to tap seafood import tariffs as a revenue source for disaster assistance to the Northeast groundfishery and other fisheries that have been recognized by the Department of Commerce as economic disasters.
Tierney’s spokeswoman, Kathryn Prael, said this afternoon that the congressman was seeking co-sponsors, and was confident of finding broad, bipartisan support.
Before its term expired Jan. 3, the lame-duck 112th Congress failed to approve $150 million in fisheries disaster relief proposed by then Sen. John Kerry and co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans in the New England delegations of both houses.
The acting commerce secretary last September declared the Northeast groundfishery a disaster based on existing socio-economic data and diminishing prospects for 2013.
Last week, the New England Fishery Management Council recommended cutting inshore cod landings by 77 percent and landings from Georges Bank by 66 percent — reductions that, if approved as expected by the Commerce Department, would produce a historic limitation on landings by commercial and recreational sectors and causing what most believe would be a chilling economic ripple through the ports of the region, Maine to New York.
Gloucester, which is represented by Tierney, is the center of New England’s inshore cod fishery; New Bedford, the main port for boats working offshore Georges Bank.
Tierney’s bill would redirect import tariffs for fiscal 2014 on seafood and fish products — which now account for more than 90 percent of domestic consumption — to fisheries disaster relief. The amount would be calculated in October, at the start of the federal 2014 fiscal year, and redirected into fisheries disaster relief.
The bill is a permutation of earlier legislation aimed to redirect the revenue stream from import tariffs to fisheries as originally intended by the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, which directed that 30 percent of fish tariff revenues be given by the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Commerce — and that Commerce use at last 60 percent for “fishery industry projects.” Over time, however, Congress has shifted the Saltonstall-Kennedy revenues into NOAA’s operating budget.
While the specific amount that would be generated in 2014 will not be calculated until fall, the Commerce Department got $124 million in Saltonstall-Kennedy funding in 2013.
In recent years, Congress has diverted funding from the act, named for Sens. Leverett Saltonstall and future President John F. Kennedy to NOAA’s operating budget.
Tierney’s bill, which would also cover fisheries in Mississippi and Alaska, would use Saltsonstall-Kennedy money for disaster relief for one year, then recommit the funding for its original purposes.
“From Gloucester, Massachusetts to Mississippi to Alaska, fishermen in several states are facing near catastrophic economic situations,” Tierney in an email to the Times. “Despite the Department of Commerce’s recognition of these disasters with emergency declarations in 2012, sufficient relief still has not been provided. This is unacceptable.”
“The bill I plan to offer is just the beginning of the comprehensive reform that is needed, but it is a creative and responsible solution to help provide immediate disaster relief to fishermen and ensure that funding is directed to research in the longer,” Tierney said.
For more on this story, look to tomorrow’s print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times and gloucestertimes.com.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.