GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 11, 2011

Kerry seeks to steer fishing aid from NOAA coffers

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

U.S, Sen. John Kerry has announced plans to reform the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act to ensure the original intent of a law written by Massachusetts political legends in 1954 — to provide a steady revenue stream for research and development and marketing of domestic harvests from fish import tariffs.

The industry has failed to get about $500 million in Saltonstall-Kennedy funds over the past decade, and got nothing in 2011, federal figures show. The Act is names for Sens. Leverett Saltonstall, a Republican and former governor, and John F. Kennedy, who served in the Senate prior to his election as president in 1960,

Noting that fishermen feel a "deep sense of disappointment and mistrust ..." in federal fisheries enforcement, science and research funding decisions, Kerry said he intends to draft and file legislation that would establish grants programs within the regional fishery management councils, and make money available for the grants from both the Saltonstall-Kennedy transfers and NOAA enforcement's Asset Forfeiture Fund.

"My legislation would make sure that these federal funds go where they were intended," Kerry said in remarks prepared for the start of the Oct. 3 hearing that featured testimony from NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. She was questioned by Kerry, Sen. Scott Brown and by congressmen John Tierney, Barney Frank and William Keating.

Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith said details on the bill were not yet available Tuesday.

The Times reported last March that Congress has been flouting the intent of Saltonstall-Kennedy.

Although the law requires that 30 percent of fish tariffs be given by the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Commerce — and that Commerce use at last 60 percent for "fishery industry projects" — Congress has chosen to do otherwise.

In 2011, Commerce received $90.2 million in Saltonstall-Kennedy funds, but while the law requires that 60 percent — or just over $54 million — be distributed in research and development or marketing projects to the industry, not a penny went to that purpose. Instead, the entire $90.2 million was shifted by Congress into NOAA operations, said agency spokeswoman Connie Barclay.

Over the past decade, nearly $500 million that should have been spent on fishing industry projects was diverted into NOAA's operating budget, according to government figures.

The report was met with outrage by congressional lawmakers whose districts include fishing communities, but the misuse of the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act has been chronic.

The Congressional Research Service, an agency of the Library of Congress, reports that, since 1982, the Saltonstall-Kennedy program has never allocated the minimum amount specified by law for industry projects.

After Congress wrote the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976, extending U.S. waters from 12 to 200 miles from the three-mile line for state waters, Congress began mandating that the Department of Commerce — which includes NOAA — spend a fixed percentage of its revenue stream from tariffs on "the needs of fishing communities in providing economic benefits for rebuilding and maintaining sustainable fisheries."

In 1980, Congress set the figure at 50 percent of the transfer total, then raised it to 60 percent beginning in 1983 while mandating it be spent on improved technology, quality improvements and "domestic and foreign market development," among other justifiable uses.

But almost immediately, according to government figures, NOAA operations began to get more and the industry less.

The size of the revenue stream based on the value of imports grew steadily as conservation and stock rebuilding programs were assembled and imposed, and domestic seafood production dropped and imports expanded.

Today, the U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood, and is burdened by a $10.4 billion trade deficit in seafood alone.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.