On the day the White House announced $170 million in meat purchases to help farmers struggling with drought in the heartland, Gov. Deval Patrick renewed his now nearly 9-month-old disaster declaration request for the state's fishing industry, which is consolidating rapidly while looking at huge cuts in allowable landings next year.
Patrick last November filed a disaster declaration package including by two scientific studies, one done jointly with the federal government, showing the state's small-boat businesses failing at an increasing rate, unable to break even. Much of the industry is based in Gloucester and New Bedford.
Despite repeated telephone conferences with officials at the Department of Commerce over the months, the administration has responded in no way.
Since the filing, the economic climate for fishermen has grown more dire. "(National Marine Fisheries Service) numbers suggest groundfish cuts between 43 and 73 percent across multiple stocks, putting the very viability of the historic and economically vital New England fishing fleet at risk," wrote Patrick to Acting Commerce Secretary Roberta Blank.
Additional pressure has come from U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and Congressman John Tierney, whose district includes Gloucester and New Bedford, Barney Frank, who represents New Bedford, William Keating, whose district includes the ports along Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod, and Edward Markey of Malden.
His district is landlocked, but Markey earlier this month urged the administration to acknowledge and act in the face of the disaster, sayiing, "Fishermen were being hit by a perfect storm of fewer fish, warmer waters, and competition from mislabled foreign seafood."
Patrick, who is co-chairman of the Obama reelection campaign, emphasized in his letter that "the disaster is not the fault of our fishermen who have been following federal fisheries management plans." He implied that part of the problem was faulty and contradictory science on which catch limits are set.
"I urge you," the governor wrote to the acting commerce secretary, "to continue to improve fisheries science to allow for more accurate fisheries management decisions in the future."
The woes of the fishermen have been mounting for some time, but in the Obama years the New England groundfishery was privatized, converted into a limited access commodity market trading in catch shares and designed, according Jane Lubchenco, Obama's choice to head NOAA, to eliminate a "sizeable fraction of the fleet."
This policy has had the desired effect of culling boats, but has also fed hyper-consolidation, as NOAA data shows.
"Catch shares have had a devastating impact on the commonwealth's groundfish fishery," Patrick said in his November 2011 request for the federal government to acknowledge a fisheries failure. He asked for $21 million in emergency aid.
Acting Secretary Blank had no immediate response to invitations to comment.
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464 or email@example.com.