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September 13, 2012

Update: Fishing disaster call cites no NOAA blame

The Commerce Department today declared the Northeast groundfishery to be a disaster, removing a hurdle in the congressional effort headed by Sen. John Kerry to get $100 million for the affected states in the last days of the 112th session of Congress.

NOAA indicated that the declaration includes Massachusetts, which first filed last November for a disaster declaration, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecitut and New York State.

Kerry said he had the word of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the funding vehicle would be attached to a farm drought assistance package and moved out and onto the floor for action after the Presidential and congressional elections.

The announcement through a press statement issued by Acting Commerce Secretary Roberta Blank attributes the failure to “unexpectedly slow rebuilding of fish stocks” and ignores the allegations by Gov. Deval Patrick and the congressional delegation that NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco contributed to the failure by transforming the fishery into a commodity market trading catch shares just as the industry was forced to face more stringent catch limits — and now faces a future of fewer fish to catch based on NOAA scientific assessments that have earned widespread skepticism.

Patrick and the governors of New Hampshire, Maine, and Rhode Island had petitioned for a disaster declaration beginning nearly 10 months ago. New York’s senators wrote to Blank seeking have New York added to the states getting disaster assistance.

NOAA’s press secretary Ciaran Clayton, said the delay in the announcement was due to the agency’s doing its due diligence in researching whether a disaster had occurred.

“NOAA needed to work with the states to gather data to determine if a fisheries failure did occur,” she said.

In a teleconference, Kerry noted the time it took to get the administration to act on the fisheries disaster, but said having a declaration was better than not having one. He said he was confident Congress would approve the $100 million before the end of the session.

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