A draft letter that outlines a proposed disaster relief program for the Northeast groundfishery — featuring a $100 million permit and boat buyback program, and $87.5 million in various subsidies for those who stay in business — is circulating among members of the New England congressional delegation.
Under the program, the government would front the buyback money, which would be repaid from charges on the revenue generated by the industry survivors, according to the draft letter. The government would also put up $10 million to cover the anticipated default rate in the program.
A copy of the draft letter was provided to the Times Wednesday by a staffer within the New England delegation.
The letter is being circulated for ideas and signatures in time to put the House and Senate leadership and appropriations committees on notice of a desire to tack the groundfish disaster relief program onto a bill that was likely to make it to President Obama’s desk before the end of the 112th Congress.
One likely carrier is a disaster assistance bill for farmers that passed the House in July. But many New England delegation members have not yet seen the package, a congressional staffer told the Times today.
It was more than eight months ago that Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine asked the Department of Commerce to declare a fisheries disaster.
The administration, however, has never responded, creating widespread anger among lawmakers and across the industry .
“Our fishermen work hard every day under challenging conditions,” said Congressman Frank Guinta of New Hampshire. “The least Washington can do is extend the courtesy of replying to the request for disaster assistance.”
On Monday, Sen. John Kerry’s office issued a statement hinting that a regional disaster declaration was being being drafted.
Without the declaration, which is authorized for fishery failures in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, relief aid is considered a political near impossibility.
Along with the $100 million buyout, the draft letter proposed $30 million in direct aid to fishermen, another $30 million to assist communities and shore side businesses, $15 million to cover at sea monitoring for two years, $7.5 million for cooperative and traditional scientific research, $2.5 million to for retraining ex-fishermen and another $5 million to support the 17 fishing cooperatives now operating in New England.
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Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.