GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 13, 2012

$150M in fishing aid in Sandy relief bill

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee today released a $64 billion disaster assistance bill that includes $150 million for the six states in the Northeast groundfishery and three other states.

The bill’s impetus was relief for the superstorm Sandy disaster, but lawmakers have added a variety of other disaster relief measures, including farm drought relief.

After its transformation into a commodity market with trading in catch shares by members of fishing cooperatives in 2010, the groundfishery began disintegrating into economic crisis. The failure was acknowledged by the acting commerce secretary in September, 11 months after Gov. Deval Patrick began petitioning for a disaster declaration.

The groundfisheries of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York were included in the disaster declaration.

The $150 million appropriation covers the impact of superstorm Sandy on the full spectrum of the fisheries of New Jersey and New York, as well as the oyster and blue crab fisheries of Mississippi and the Chinook salmon fishery of Alaska.

The disaster assistance for the six states’ groundfisheries was made contingent on the creation and delivery of a plan by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the distribution and use of the money to the House Appropriations Committee within 45 days of the enactment of the host bill.

The disaster assistance bill needs the approval of both houses of Congress and the president’s signature before the end of the 112th session of Congress at the end of the year.

Creating and delivering the usage plan for groundfishery disaster relief would be among the final acts of Jane Lubchenco before she resigns as under-secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and as the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at the end of February.

Before taking office, Lubchenco gave written public assurances that re-engineering the groundfishery into a limited access commodity market would unleash economic prosperity and restore the vitality of the ecosystem.

Lubchenco announced her plan to resign in an internal email Wednesday, a decision that was greeted with relief and hope by members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, who had opposed her determination to commodify the groundfishery and shrink the size of the fleet.

Her email claimed she had succeeded in “ending overfishing, rebuilding stocks and returning the fisheries to profitability.” She did not mention the disastrous results of the catch share system, which was blamed by Gov. Patrick for the consolidation that has concentrated the diminished allocation in a small number of businesses.

A letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee sent Tuesday by the senators of the nine states seeking fisheries disaster assistance described the groundfishery as descending deeper into disaster as the result of “projected reductions in the total allowable catch for certain critical groundfish stocks.”

“Despite strict adherence to new rigorous management practices by fishermen,” the senators wrote, “key fish stocks have not returned. Slow recovery and declining fish stocks will continue to have a negative impact on commercial fishing, harming local communities and economies.”

The New England Fishery Management Council is holding a special meeting next Thursday to make draconian cuts in many of the key stocks, including cod.

Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x 3464, or rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.