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September 14, 2012

Fishery declared economic 'disaster'

The Northeast groundfishing industry, battered by conservation measures to protect weakened stocks and struggling to maintain its historic diversity while operating since 2010 as a commodities market geared toward encourages consolidation, was declared an economic disaster by the federal government Thursday.

But the finding, announced by Sen. John Kerry and Acting Commerce Secretary Robert Blank offered no certain assistance.

Although the Magnuson-Stevens Act directs the Commerce Department to “make sums available” to relieve the damage and protect the industry, Blank made no mention of forthcoming financial assistance from the Obama administration.

Instead, Kerry emphasized that the declaration removed a political impediment to a belated effort he said he would mount confidently to generate a major appropriation through the lame-duck, tail end of the 112th Congress after the Nov. 6 presidential and congressional elections.

Kerry said he had obtained a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to attach a $100 million funding package for the six states with groundfishing interests — Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York — to a farm drought relief bill. Though it has been neither introduced nor drafted, Kerry said he was optimistic the combination bill would be approved and sent to President Obama before the expiration of the Congress.

Thursday’s disaster declaration, first reported yesterday morning online at gloucestertimes.com, came nearly 10 months after Gov. Deval Patrick filed a brace of socio-economic studies showing the decimation of the industry, caused by regulatory and statutory catch limits. The declaration also came 7 1/2 months after NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchebnco promised “to have an answer soon” on an expanded request for disaster assistance.

Lubchenco was responding to a follow up letter from Patrick, this time pointing out an additional major weight on the back of fishermen — a disappointing and surprising stock assessment of Gulf of Maine cod, auguring years of catch cutbacks.

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