By Richard Gaines
---- — A day after the NBC Nightly News highlighted the economic disaster facing small fishing boat businesses in Gloucester, Congressman John Tierney once again called on his colleagues Thursday to support disaster relief legislation for the Northeast groundfishery.
Congress stripped $150 million in disaster assistance from a Senate approved $60 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill at the end of the 112th Congress. Despite having acknowledged the disaster in a legal finding declared by the Department of Commerce last September, the Obama administration has not advocated publicly for disaster assistance to address the issue.
“As public outcry intensifies, I urge my colleagues to join me in pressing for relief for our fishermen,” said Tierney in a prepared statement. “The fishing industry is one of the oldest and most relied upon in the country, and it is facing near catastrophe. The Department of Commerce has recognized this and designated fisheries disasters in Massachusetts and several other states last year. Yet, sufficient relief for our fishermen still has not been provided.
”Fishermen in my district and across the country deserve better,” Tierney said.
In a letter to his colleagues, Tierney wrote about his bill, identified as H.R. 799
”Each year, the federal government receives funds collected from tariffs on imported fish products,” Tierney wrote. “The Saltonstall-Kennedy Act of 1954 directed that a percentage of these funds go to benefit and improve our domestic fishing industry. Since then, an ever-increasing amount of those monies has been inappropriately redirected to fund the operations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
”The Fisheries Disaster Relief and Research Investment Act would provide immediate assistance to those states designated by the secretary of Commerce as fisheries disasters last year,” he continued. “This assistance would be funded through the fishery import duties in fiscal year 2014. While the specific amount that would be generated in Fiscal Year 2014 is not yet known, it is worth noting that in fiscal year 2013 it was $124 million; and in fiscal year 2012, it was $109 million. Then, beginning in fiscal year 2015, my bill would restore the original intent of Saltonstall-Kennedy and ensure that the fishery duties collected would support grants addressing research and responsible actions to rebuild and sustain healthy fish populations.
”While hardships confronting our fishermen are real and urgent,” he added. “I understand how challenging it will be to secure sufficient assistance for them through the annual appropriations process. The Fisheries Disaster Relief and Research Investment Act enables Congress to help our fishermen in a responsible manner by utilizing an existing funding source and not increasing discretionary spending.
Tierney’s letter and comments came a day after The NBC Nightly News featured a segment Wednesday tiled “Death Knell for Cod Fishermen,” with interviews drawn from Gloucester fishermen and others.
The disaster was recognized in September by the acting Commerce Secretary — 11 months after the request was formalized by Gov. Deval Patrick with socio-economic studies done jointly with NOAA input as well as that of the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Soon, New Hampshire and Maine joined the request and later in the year, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York also joined the request.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.