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November 13, 2013

Fish aid bill would still KO NOAA jobs here

Massachusetts U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey could find themselves in a bit of a political pickle, and Gloucester could potentially lose as many as 200 jobs, depending on the final configuration of a Senate appropriations bill that includes the coveted $150 million in direct disaster aid to commercial fishermen in New England and elsewhere.

The bill that currently sits in the Senate Appropriations Committee retains the $150 million in federal direct aid to the fishing industry — the very same $150 million that never made the cut last year in the Senate’s budget compromise with the House of Representatives.

But the current Senate bill still includes a provision that, if it remains in the final Senate bill and survives negotiations with the House, would unleash withering reforms on NOAA’s Gloucester-based Northeast Regional Office — or NERO — including the possibility of closing the Gloucester facility and scattering its 200 staff and responsibilities to other NOAA offices along the Eastern Seaboard.

That would mean more bad news to the Gloucester economy, which continues to try to weather the ongoing demise of its independent, small-boat commercial fishing fleet.

The provision also could create a political dilemma for Warren and Markey, potentially cornering them into voting for a bill that would deliver the long-awaited $150 million in direct disaster assistance to the fishing industry, but at the expense of Massachusetts-based federal jobs.

That’s why both seem far more accepting of a modification that would result in a restructuring of the NOAA regional headquarters and the outsourcing of some of the Gloucester-based staff and services to other NOAA offices in New Bedford and Woods Hole.

“Fishermen in Massachusetts need disaster relief, and they also need to be heard by the regulators who handle their industry,” Markey said in a prepared statement to the Times. “Restructuring the NOAA regional offices to keep staff in Massachusetts — from Gloucester to New Bedford to Woods Hole — will make sure that fishermen are being heard wherever they ply their trade.”

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