Normally when our federal government or even the state government declares a “disaster,” officials follow up by extending the stricken region with a variety of resources and/or a package of monetary aid to tackle the problem at hand.
Yet no such aid or assistance has materialized to date since the U.S. Department of Commerce finally declared in September what everyone in any New England fishing community had already known: that the Northeast groundfishery, centered in many ways on Gloucester, had become an economic disaster.
While the governing Magnuson-Stevens Act allows for Congress to “make sums available” to relieve damage and protect the fishery and its communities, Commerce’s aptly named acting secretary, Rebecca Blank, did not reference any aid coming from the Obama administration to even attempt to deal with the proclaimed “disaster.” And, as today’s Page 1 story notes, NOAA has nothing in the works regarding any emergency aid, either.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. This “disaster,” after all, is hardly due to natural causes or “dwindling stocks,” as Blank’s declaration tried to push off on fishermen, lawmakers and taxpayers. It is chiefly due to NOAA’s chief administrator Jane Lubchenco’s job-killing catch share management system, which has enabled a relatively few large-scale fishing operations to gobble up more and more shares of the allowable catch. That change alone drove more than 20 percent of Gloucester’s smaller, family-owned boats to the sidelines in catch shares’ first year, an economic disaster in its own right, and verified through NOAA’s own figures.
To that end, the lack of aid flowing into the economic disaster area suggests that even NOAA and Commerce officials may also recognize, but won’t concede, that this is a government-generated crisis that cannot be fixed by throwing money at it. The only way to truly address this crisis is to jettison Lubchenco’s catch-share system — and her with it, as we and several lawmakers have called for in the past.
There are indeed many fishermen who desperately need disaster aid to remain afloat into the 2013 fishing year. And Congress should push through an appropriate package of available aid, perhaps steering it through new Northeast regional administrator and former New Bedford mayor John Bullard, who could coordinate its distribution.
But lawmakers must once and for all push for the only truly fitting response to this disaster. That’s the abolition of catch shares and installation of a common-sense management program that won’t provide fishermen with handouts, but will give them back the right to fish — and earn a living.