GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 21, 2013

Senate fishing aid bill would close local NOAA offices

From Staff and Wire Reports
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee bill that would provide for some $150 million to address economic fishery disasters and require NOAA to charter fishermen’s boats for cooperative stock assessment research would also shut down NOAA’s northeast regional headquarters in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park and fold its jobs and operations into smaller community-based offices across the region.

The budget measure — backed last week by the full Senate Appropriations Committee and its Commerce, Justice, Science subcommittee — would steer $150 million into long-awaited disaster aid for Massachusetts fishermen as well as those in other New England states, Alaska and Mississippi.

That money, though it must hold up through approval by the full Senate and then reconciliation with a sister Appropriations measure from the House, would come nearly a year after the Department of Commerce recognized the Northeast groundfishery, with Gloucester’s beleaguered fleet of small, independent and family-owned fishing boats, as an “economic disaster” in a declaration issued by then-Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank last September. And the bill would require NOAA to direct a portion of its revenue from seafood import duties toward the expanded fisheries research, as required by the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act.

According to the bill – geared toward the 2014 federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30, 2014 — 10 percent of the revenues generated by the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act tariffs would have to be used for competitive grants toward community-based efforts that will help both fishing communities and industry industry itself modernize their fleets, shore services, and port facilities. The Saltonstall-Kennedy Act funds also could not be used for internal NOAA management; NOAA has instead used the tariff revenues to fund its operations for several years in spite of the 1954 provisions.

The Senate Appropriations measure, however, also states that, “given NOAA’s lack of cooperation and reversal of commitment, the Committee has no choice but to take action and direct NOAA to close NERO (the Northeast Regional Office) immediately and to dissolve all necessary operations into existing facilities located throughout the region.”

“Specifically, NOAA is directed to improve outreach and services to the fishing industry by configuring fishery science centers and fishery statistic offices as newly configured and less stove-piped portals to the local fishing communities,” the bill reads. “With minimal overhead investment, including technology investment and updated staffing plans, these offices could be much better utilized to serve a larger NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) purpose. Instead of relying on, or having to travel to, the NERO office for direct industry support, fishermen would have better and more immediate access to NMFS support services at existing NMFS offices in their home states, if not their home ports...”

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