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February 6, 2014

Bay State seen having leg up on fish aid

Massachusetts, the epicenter of the groundfish disaster that has ravaged the Gloucester small-boat fleet, could be positioned to receive a favorable share of the $75 million in disaster aid approved for fishermen and fishing communities in the Northeast Groundfish Fishery under the developing guidelines for distributing the funds.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office confirmed yesterday that the process for developing the distribution formula remains a work in progress, but with the underlying principle that the funds — specifically designated as assistance to the groundfish disaster proclaimed by the Department of Commerce in 2012 — should go to areas where the most groundfish fishermen have suffered the greatest level of economic distress from the disaster.

Within the Northeast Groundfish fishery, which encompasses all six New England states, as well as New York and New Jersey, that would be Massachusetts.

The great fear among fishermen and fishing advocates is that NOAA, as an agent for the Department of Commerce, will exact a steep cut of the $75 million for the administrative costs related to funneling the money to the participating states.

Warren has been very vocal on the federal level, cautioning NOAA that every penny of the funds should reach those fishermen and fishing-related businesses because their need is the greatest.

“My main goals are making sure that the disaster relief aid is distributed as soon as possible to those who need it the most, and ensuring that the funds are used both to provide short term relief and to support the long term sustainability of Massachusetts’ fishing communities,” Warren said in a statement.

In Massachusetts, state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante also have warned NOAA against siphoning off any of the disaster funds for its own administrative use, as it has done repeatedly with revenues from the tariffs on imported fish that are, by law, supposed to return to fishermen and the fishing industry.

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