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April 26, 2012

Senate panel takes $119M in NOAA budget for fish research

A U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee has directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use its revenue stream from seafood import duties — an estimated $119 million next year — on fisheries research, as the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act required and Sen. John Kerry requested.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.

Her subcommittee wrote language into President Obama's $5.1 billion 2013 NOAA budget request that requires the agency to use all Saltonstall-Kennedy funding for "fishery activities related to cooperative research, annual stock assessments, survey and monitoring projects, interjurisdictional fisheries grants, and fish information networks."

"I'm deeply grateful to Sen. Mikulski for making this happen, because I wasn't willing to wait for passage of my Saltonstall-Kennedy bill to achieve its intended results," said Kerry in a prepared statement. "Using the Saltonstall-Kennedy funds for their intended purpose is a down payment on trust."

It could not be determined if and how the directed spending would alter NOAA budgetary priorities.

Although Congress over the decades has come to allow NOAA to spend Saltonstall-Kennedy monies for general operations, the agency has continued to budget for the specific purposes described in the subcommittee language.

Kerry and Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, co-filed legislation in March that restructures the original Saltonstall-Kennedy Act to work through the eight regional fishery management councils established in the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act. Co-sponsors include Sens. Scott Brown and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Companion legislation was filed in the House by Reps. John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, and Barney Frank, who represents New Bedford.

The Kerry-Snowe bill introduced mechanisms for distributing NOAA's share of import tariffs on seafood — 30 percent of the total — to the regional councils that would appoint investment committees to decide how to use the region's share of the revenue stream.

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