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February 16, 2013

Senators press for fish disaster aid

Asserting that the federal government has the responsibility to provide relief in fisheries that have been declared disasters, 13 U.S. senators — including Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren and William Cowan — have urged President Obama to introduce special budget funding for the Northeast groundfishery and three others in Mississippi and Alaska..

The bipartisan letter was heavily weighted with Democrats, including Warren and Cowan, Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Charles Schumer and Kirstin Gillibrand of New York, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Begich of Alaska. Begich is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Republicans on the letter were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Independent Angus King of Maine also signed the letter.

In September, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank declared the Northeast groundfishery a disaster — 11 months after Gov. Deval Patrick submitted a second, expanded appeal that included two socio-economic studies. Blank also issued disaster declarations for the blue crab and oyster fishery of Mississippi and the Chinnock salmon fishery of Alaska.

But by September, the national elections loomed and at the end of October Hurricane Sandy created a different kind of disaster which proved hurdles too high for advocates who got no help from the White House or the Commerce Department. Once Blank issued her declarations, the administration remained mute on the subject of the need for assistance.

”We believe that it is the responsibility of the administration, after declaring these disasters, to request the funding to respond to them,” the senators wrote. “Until funding is made available for these declarations, the affected fishermen will continue to struggle during a critical time of need. For those that are suffering and the fishing communities they live in, time is of the essence. They simply cannot wait for another funding cycle for help to arrive.”

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