The two provisions of the U.S. Senate’s Farm Bill that provide aid to fisheries are indeed a pair of baby steps that should offer benefits to Gloucester’s and New England fishermen.
But in considering those proposals — submitted by acting U.S. Sen. William “Mo” Cowan, who’s holding down the former John Kerry seat until voters next choose between Ed Markey and Gabriel Gomez — it’s important that congressional leaders don’t make them out to be more than that. And it’s critical that they continue to push for more significant and practical measures aimed at helping an industry that, lest we forget, is being driven into oblivion by the wrongful actions of federal agency.
Now destined for the House and a conference reconciliation, the Senate Farm Bill calls for funding a fisheries insurance study and would make fishermen eligible to become recipients of emergency disaster loans.
Those are nice; federal officials should take a fresh look at fishing insurance issues, which have at least been bridged by the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, and allowing fishermen access to low-interest loans in the face of the current federally-recognized “economic disaster” is the least government can do as fewer and fewer boats head out of Gloucester harbor and elsewhere, thanks to NOAA’s dire limit cuts, especially when it comes to cod.
But the key word there is “least.” For it seems more and more ridiculous each day that, after issuing last September’s disaster’s declaration for the New England groundfishery, the Department of Commerce and its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have done nothing to seek aid to address the emergency they, in fact, created. And the administration has shown no signs of lifting the landing limits — which may now be in the hands of a federal judge thanks to the lawsuit by Attorney General Martha Coakley that rightfully challenges NOAA’s action and its insistence on using outdated trawling and modeling methods to assess the stocks.
The most meaningful approaches toward addressing the fishery disaster are the rightful shifting of tariff revenues under the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act to aid the industry — not NOAA’s budget — as sought by Congressman John Tierney, and a declaration setting aside the new catch limits in favor of another year of interim restrictions carrying over from 2012, as urged by Coakley, the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, and even NOAA’s own New England Fishery Management Council.
Those, not Farm Bill baby steps, would tackle fishermen’s and fishing communities’ real needs.