GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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June 3, 2014

Push is on to speed aid to fishermen

Fishing advocates are questioning why the direct assistance contained in the federal fishery disaster aid plan is going to take so long to get to eligible fishermen and permit holders.

“The long-term programs like the buyback and the state grants are going to take more time and we understand that,” Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, said Monday. “But the idea was to get the direct assistance money out the door sooner rather than later.”

State and federal officials, in announcing the distribution plan last Wednesday for the nearly $33 million headed to the coastal New England states and New York, said the general target date for delivering the $32,463 checks to 336 eligible fishermen — including about $6.3 million to 194 in Massachusetts — is Oct. 1.

If that timetable holds, fishermen won’t receive the $11 million in direct assistance for up to four months after the plan was announced — nine months after Congress appropriated $75 million in fishing disaster relief funds, and eight months after NOAA said $32.8 million of the $75 million was headed to fishermen in the New England coastal states and New York.

“We feel strongly that this should be expedited,” Odell said. “It should be sooner rather than later. We don’t understand why people should have to wait until Oct. 1 for the direct assistance. In the plan industry put forward, there was a very streamlined, simplified formula to get the (direct) money out the door quickly.”

Mary Griffin, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, said the process for dispersing the direct assistance is not as simple as cutting checks to fishermen already deemed eligible for the aid.

“There is some process we still have to engage in with NOAA and the other states,” Griffin said Monday. “The states have not even received the funds from NOAA yet.”

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