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June 4, 2014

State budget holds aid for fishing, green crab fight

The Massachusetts Legislature is moving closer to crafting a fiscal year 2015 state budget, as representatives from both chambers met Tuesday in a conference committee to try to iron out differences in their respective budget proposals.

The $36.2 billion Senate budget proposal includes several amendments that relate directly to coastal communities and the fishing industry, including funding to research the growing green crab problem and combat the spread of the insidious phragmite reed marsh plants in the Great Marsh, as well as an amendment to implement a new fee schedule to fund a ventless lobster trap survey program.

There is also an amendment, championed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, that would provide funding for a plan to help the city of Gloucester develop facilities for pretreating wastewater generated by seafood processing businesses.

“There is a lot of productive stuff in this budget,” Tarr said of the Senate budget proposal he helped assemble. “But we still have to negotiate (with the House). From our perspective, this is where the fight is.”

The amendment related to the invasive green crabs seeks $133,000 to fund a state Division of Marine Fisheries three-pronged plan, in conjunction with Salem State University’s Aquaculture Center, aimed at curbing the green crab population by wide-scale trapping.

That funding is backed in the House, where an amendment pushed by Reps. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, and Brad Hill, the Ipswich Republican who represents Manchester, calls for allocating $83,400.

“This is really important,” Tarr said. “We’re making up for lost time here.”

The trapped green crabs would be part of the research required to begin building a comprehensive body of knowledge about the physical development of the crabs. The third element would study the species to determine if processing the crabs might provide any economic value.

“I think our chances are outstanding,” Tarr said of the prospects for keeping the amendment in the final budget. “There’s money in both sides of the budget, so I’m confident we should see some funding, hopefully at a higher level.”

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