By Sean Horgan
---- — The Massachusetts Senate has approved a $50,000 appropriation that, if also approved by the House, will help fund a state Division of Marine Fisheries plan to stave off further erosion of the state’s commercial fishing industry.
The appropriation, while modest, represents the second state effort in less than a week to provide financial assistance directly to commercial fishermen and shore-side businesses related to the fishing industry after years of relative inertia.
Perhaps more importantly, it could represent the first step to a systematic state approach for developing a strategy to help the commercial fishing industry rebound from its current dire position.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr announced that he and Majority Whip Mark C. Montigny, D-New Bedford, secured an amendment in the state budget to provide Gloucester with a $75,000 port-recovery grant to help develop a plan to sustain shore-side businesses. New Bedford received a similar grant.
Tarr said Friday that the DMF amendment is the second half to that equation. He likened it to a life-support measure essential to help keep the commercial fishing industry — and its workforce — economically alive long enough for a proper cure to be found.
“My fear is that we’re going to see the complete implosion of the industry,” Tarr said. “There isn’t enough catch being allowed, and the consequences of that could well be our overall ability to harvest fish goes extinct because people can’t afford to maintain boats and permits and other things.”
The $50,000 appropriation approved by the Senate on Thursday directs the DMF to consider a number of strategies for heading off further collapse following increased closings of specific areas in the Northeast multi-species fishery and drastic federal cuts in allowable catch quotas for cod and other species that have served as staples of the Bay State’s commercial fishing fleet.
Direct grants to commercial fishing vessels, owners and crews;
The purchase, leasing and banking of commercial groundfish permits and/or catch-quota loans, guarantees and subsidies; and ...
Leasing dormant commercial fishing vessels for research and other academic purposes.
“There’s no shortage of ideas how to do this,” Tarr said. “There’s a shortage of consensus.”
The Senate amendment containing the appropriation also instructs the DMF to conduct at least three public hearings in geographically diverse coastal commercial fishing ports.
“They’ve been down this path before,” Tarr said, referring to DMF’s role in developing a plan to distribute federal assistance after fishery closures on Stellwagen Bank about five years ago. “They know how to do it.”
The appropriation, included in the $94.6 million supplemental budget bill debated in the Senate on Thursday, must be approved by the House before being sent to Gov. Deval Patrick for his signature.
Tarr said his discussions with state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante leave him optimistic that the amendment will survive in the House.
“There was tremendous support for the amendment yesterday in the Senate,” Tarr said. “But it’s a negotiation, and nothing is certain.”
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT