By Richard Gaines
---- — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren Friday announced filing what she called a “deficit neutral” budget amendment that would provide disaster assistance to the Northeast groundfishery, declared a disaster in September, but without any financial support to address it.
The amendment marked the initial legislative action by the new Democratic senator from Massachusetts. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, which also had a fishery, for Chinook salmon, declared a disaster, filed a similar amendment.
Both authorize the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee to revise allocations in one or more bills to create the funding for the disaster relief so long as the changes do not add to the nation’s deficit.
The step is the latest venture by federal lawmakers to help address the economic disaster that has hit fishing communities such as Gloucester, with more dire cuts in fishing quotas from NOAA due to take effect May 1.
On Feb. 4, Congressman John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, announced a different approach to securing the disaster aid; his proposal would tap the seafood import tariff dollars, which had been originally reserved for research and marketing of American seafood under the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, but have, over the decades since, been diverted into the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Warren’s co-sponsors of the new measure are William “Mo” Cowan, the interim senator in the seat held by John Kerry before he resigned at the end of January to become secretary of state, Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse , Democrats of Rhode Island, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Republican, Sen. Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand, New York Democrats.
“We must support our fishermen in Massachusetts and throughout the Northeast who are struggling to make ends meet during this difficult time,” Warren said in a prepared statement. “The fishing industry is an important part of our region’s economy, and I’m proud to introduce my first Senate amendment to help make sure these hardworking fishing families have access to the critical disaster assistance they deserve.”
Last month, Warren rejected the invitation of her mentor, former Rep. Barney Frank, to go to the White House with him to urge President Obama to provide relief for the fishing industry. Frank subsequently said he believed he was barred by statute from lobbying the President with Warren, though he also said he could lobby the president alone and that Warren, of course, could go to the White House without him.
King and Shaheen also signed Murkowski’s amendment, as did Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, and Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine.
On Feb. 28, Tierney urged his colleagues to take action to provide disaster help for fishermen, and in a letter, explained how his approach would work.
“Each year, the federal government receives funds collected from tariffs on imported fish products,” Tierney wrote. “The Saltonstall-Kennedy Act of 1954 directed that a percentage of these funds go to benefit and improve our domestic fishing industry. Since then, an ever-increasing amount of those monies has been inappropriately redirected to fund the operations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“The Fisheries Disaster Relief and Research Investment Act would provide immediate assistance to those states designated by the secretary of Commerce as fisheries disasters last year,” he continued. “This assistance would be funded through the fishery import duties in fiscal year 2014.
“While the specific amount that would be generated in Fiscal Year 2014 is not yet known,” he added, “it is worth noting that in fiscal year 2013 it was $124 million; and in fiscal year 2012, it was $109 million. Then, beginning in fiscal year 2015, my bill would restore the original intent of Saltonstall-Kennedy and ensure that the fishery duties collected would support grants addressing research and responsible actions to rebuild and sustain healthy fish populations.”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at email@example.com.