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April 5, 2013

Governor urged to seek Obama fishing aid

A group of more than 60 state lawmakers, including many with districts far from the sea, asked Gov. Deval Patrick Thursday to appeal directly to President Obama, his personal friend from their Chicago days, to grant emergency relief from impending cutbacks in commercial fishery landings widely feared to render the commercial fishing industry “non-viable.”

The letter was drafted and circulated for supporting signatures by Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, both of Gloucester

The letter to Patrick asserted that the Magnuson-Stevens Act allows “interim actions” such as those proposed and emphasized that they “would still reduce catch and mortality rates but would not devastate the industry.”

The letter thanked Patrick for initiating the request for a formal declaration that the Northeast groundfishery, centered in Gloucester and New Bedford but extending from Maine to New York State, had failed.

Such a legal finding was made in writing in September by Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, but a $150 million disaster relief appropriation was killed in the House at the tail end of the lame duck session of the 112th Congress. The disaster declaration request from Patrick had been made 11 months earlier, and was followed by similar pleas from the governors of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.

The Massachusetts state senators and representatives said Thursday that presidential intervention is appropriate and required due to the vacancies at the top of the Commerce Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Commerce has not had a permanent secretary since June 2012 when John Bryson resigned, and NOAA has been without an administrator, a sub-cabinet position requiring Senate confirmation, since Jane Lubchenco’s departure at the end of February.

The letter to the governor follows by three days a letter by 24 lawmakers, including Senate President Therese Murray, to NOAA’s acting administrator for fisheries, Samuel D. Rauch III, urging him to delay the drastic cuts allocations of enough stocks within the groundfish complex — notably 77 percent in Gulf of Maine cod — to avoid immobilizing if not decimating the remaining participants in the Gloucester and Northeast fleet, now about 300 mostly small day boats.

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