U.S. Sen. John Kerry is on the right track with his and Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe's new bill called the Fisheries Investment and Regulatory Relief Act.
That's because it would, on the surface, right one of the federal government's most longstanding and egregious wrongs — siphoning millions of tariff dollars that should have gone toward aiding and promoting U.S. fishing and domestic seafood, and instead steering it into NOAA fishery operations.
But while Kerry, especially, is right to reinvigorate the 1954 Kennedy-Saltonstall Act — pushed by Massachusetts' then-senators, one of whom, of course, went on to become president — and send more of that lost money in the right direction, the bill would currently direct the cash toward a new "investment" panel under the New England Fishery Management Council. And therein lies a few major problems.
First, the new investment panels that would be carved out by this legislation would grant true fishermen just three out of 13 seats on these boards. That's barely token representation for those who are bearing the brunt of the feds' wrongdoing.
But the big picture is even darker. Simply steering this money — and it could be a bundle, given that NOAA grabbed all but $8.4 million of the $113 million that have should have gone out through the Kennedy-Saltonstall Act in 2010 alone — into any group affiliated with the New England Fishery Management Council, especially, steers it right into the hands of the body whose catch-share management system has driven the industry toward the economic disaster it now faces. And there's no reason to think this council wouldn't steer it right into catch shares, which some federal lawmakers are rightfully pushing to shut down.
Kerry and other lawmakers are right to send the industry the tariff money it's long deserved. But he and others should perhaps look to state divisions of marine fisheries or other publicly accountable bodies to serve as the operative banks.
Funneling this money into the corrupt management councils will only fuel the job-killing catch share systems already in place. And that's sure not the kind of aid that Gloucester's, New England's and America's fishermen need.