It’s now been 10 months since the Department of Commerce’s then-Acting Secretary, the very aptly-named Rebecca Blank, finally issued a declaration that Gloucester’s and the entire Northeast groundfishery had fallen into a state of “economic disaster.”
Yet not a single dollar of disaster aid has oozed from the nation’s capital.
It’s been months since officials up to and including Gov. Deval Patrick pressed the White House to issue the needed executive order that could have eased the dire catch limits clamped on the fishing industry by NOAA Northeast Regional Administrator John Bullard that have, based on questionable science documentation, driven Gloucester’s and New England’s fishermen to their knees.
And for what it’s worth, it’s even been six weeks since Gloucester’s own Frances Ferrante, mother of state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, got the chance at a Sen. Ed Markey rally to tell President Obama face-to-face, “we need you to help our fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts.”
“You know we will,” the president responded.
Baloney, Mr. President. As noted by the poignant and tragic stories relayed on the front page of Wednesday’s Times by longtime fisherman Joe Orlando and Christine Sherman, our own government has failed to deliver a single dime or raise a vocal chord to help.
The actions of NOAA and Commerce are to blame for fishermen’s putting their permits, boats and —in at least one documented case— houses up for sale in the first place. And while federal lawmakers have renewed their push for federal disaster aid, and essentially research and “transition” money drawn from import tariffs on seafood, it’s important to note that no disaster aid has made it through Congress.
Simply put, our fishermen cannot wait for aid that might hold up through the House and Senate Appropriations budgets for fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1. They and their families are getting daily calls from their banks and other creditors now — all because our own government refuses to allow them to earn a living. And all the talk and all the political promises will be worthless if there aren’t steps taken right now.
Bullard and other NOAA officials should revisit the grotesque 78-percent catch limit cuts and, instead, revert to the 2012 interim limits that, while trimming the limits by 22 percent, at least allowed fishermen to make a living.
Bullard and NOOA should clamp emergency trip limits on inshore boats by the larger boats, a move that would at least open grounds to the independent fishermen most in need of immediate help.
If Bullard and NOAA insist on policies and poorly-disguised efforts to drive more and more fishermen and waterfront businesses right off the map, they should at least offer fishermen boat buyouts, like the agency has done in the past.
And NOAA should be ordered by Congress to immediately steer import tariff money — money which, according to the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, should have been going all along toward fishery promotion, cooperative research and other industry improvements, not into NOAA’s overflowing operational coffers. This rogue agency should, at the very least, be required to abide by federal law.
No one should be naive enough to expect any hard cash flowing toward Gloucester’s and other communities’ beaten-down fishermen and harborside businesses in time to make a difference. Indeed, fishermen have not pushed for handouts from the start — they only want to be able to earn a living, like other hard-working American taxpayers.
But the financial hurdles now being confronted daily by folks like Orlando, the Shermans and other fishermen here, across the region, and around the nation need immediate responses, not more talk.
We can only hope that feds from Bullard’s Blackburn Park offices to the White House recognize that — and actually even care enough to do the right thing.