, Gloucester, MA

September 18, 2013

Editorial: Fed loans don't cut it when it comes to fishermen's aid

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The certification by Gov. Deval Patrick of the economic hardship of fishing communities like Gloucester is good to hear — especially given it’s a certification needed for our federal government to trigger aid through the Small Business Administration.

But if that aid — designed to respond to communities that have “suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the fishery resource disaster,” as the governor phrased it — comes only in the form of loan-interest SBA loans for fishermen, that aid and even the certification may be all but moot.

The truth is, the dire catch limit cuts imposed by NOAA for the current fishing year — on the heels of what was already a recognized “economic disaster,” as declared by the Secretary of Commerce last year — have left fishermen in or beyond bankruptcy and to the point where they are selling their boats and homes. So without freeing up the catch limits, and boosting the quota for some of the industry’s staples, such as cod and yellowtail flounder, there would seem no way for fishermen to generate the level of income they would need to pay back any loans, regardless of rates.

State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, who has long represented fishermen as an attorney and then helped to lead their fight in the Legislature and beyond, suggested that the feds’ financial assistance come in the form of grants rather than loans.

“Hopefully the governor can get across to the (Obama) administration that, when you take away somebody’s income, it becomes very difficult to come up with the money to pay for low-interest loans,” Ferrante said. And she’s absolutely right.

For weeks now, we’ve heard of how NOAA will be steering perhaps $10 million of Saltonstall-Kennedy Act money into programs aimed at boosting fishing communities’ fleets, with other aid going to more joint research. Now, we hear of SBA “low-interest loans.”

But remember that, by the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, up to 30 percent of all seafood import tariff revenue — more than $100 million last year — should be going to boost the industry, yet has been pumped straight into NOAA’s operating budget.

That shows the $10 million in so-called S-K funds to be the pittance it is, while NOAA, Commerce and Congress continue to withhold any other true aid to fund this very legitimate economic disaster — and, let’s not forget, once sparked by NOAA’s own sidestepping of the Magnuson-Sevens Act and poor policies.

SBA loans? Competitive grants of $10 million?

It’s time that NOAA and the Obama administration gave their own fishing disaster the attention it truly deserves. And programs such as these sure aren’t it.