U.S. Sen. John Kerry
Fishing in Massachusetts has been a storied part of our history — and it's up to all of us to make smart decisions in the present to support fishing and guarantee it has a strong future.
The imperative is more than just cultural or nostalgic. Commercial fishing supports more than 77,000 jobs in Massachusetts today. This is about working people's livelihoods and their families' economic security.
It's becoming harder and harder for smaller fishing families and smaller fishing boats to survive. The latest reports show that 20 percent of the vessels account for 80 percent of the revenues in the industry. As the fleet consolidates among the biggest fishing entities, smaller fishermen are seeing their livelihoods endangered. They need help to survive.
One of my most important and most satisfying responsibilities as Massachusetts' senior senator is, as Sen. Kennedy taught me 26 years ago, to leverage my experience and relationships to bring all the stakeholders — on any issue — together to talk face to face, break an impasse, create understanding, and find innovative ways to move forward.
Eleven years ago, I brought Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a powerful Republican senator from a fishing state thousands of miles away, up to Boston for a field hearing of the Commerce Committee on which we served together.
The hearing produced new ideas and new understanding. I remember driving back to the airport after our hearing, thanking Ted for coming so far to listen to our fishermen — and he leaned in and said, "John, this is how the Senate should be; we can put a human face on it all, find good ideas, take them to Washington and make them real."
He was right then, and it's even more true today; we must bridge divides that separate Washington from Massachusetts, and connect the dots between policy and people.
That's why, on Monday, I'm bringing the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee back to Massachusetts to examine our fishing challenges up close. I'm chairing another field hearing at the State House to give our state's fishermen a chance to have a clear, open dialogue with federal regulators.
This hearing will bring together the people who work in our fishing industry every day alongside federal regulators such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco.
We'll have a chance to talk, reason together, and I'll be advocating for steps to forestall economic collapse and make sure our fishermen get back on their feet — and stay there.
This has been a long and difficult effort. It always is. At its core, it's about restoring faith in the fairness of the regulatory process, and about improving policies to avoid harm.
More than two years ago, when I heard story after story of seemingly excessive penalties on Massachusetts fishermen during the Bush years, I asked for an investigation. Even though the damage hadn't been done on their watch, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Administrator Lubchenco responded and authorized an impartial investigation that uncovered abuse and wound up returning $650,000 in excessive fines to our fishermen.
I have previously introduced legislation to help repay fishermen for the enormous legal bills they incurred defending themselves against inappropriate fines and unfair retaliation.
After the hearing, I will be introducing legislation to focus federal funding on the critical research, conservation and management needs in Massachusetts and around the nation. It will help expand analysis of the way federal regulations impact local economies.
Redressing past wrongs is always important to finding a way forward.
And that's what Monday's hearing — and my work in the Senate — is about: the here and now, and the future.
When the new Commerce Secretary, John Bryson, is finally confirmed, he's already committed to me that he'll come to Massachusetts and see up close the state of our fisheries and the economic reality of our small boat fishermen.
I've also asked him to create a task force to look at how regulations are being applied and to look at economic steps we can take to alleviate the burden on the fishermen who proudly call themselves "the little guys." Our fishermen need to have confidence that decisions affecting their livelihood are being made looking at all the evidence, with their economic survival in mind. It's one thing to look at figures on a page — but we're strongest when those with power in Washington see the human face of a challenge and find new ways to help them meet it.
More than a year after the catch share program began, Monday's hearing will look at both the progress and all the costs, and identify communities that have been hit the hardest so we can help them.
We'll talk about options, including how to secure a disaster declaration to get relief to fishermen, increase rollover of un-met catch quotas so fishermen aren't unfairly blocked from bringing in more fish, and other possibilities to ensure fundamental fairness.
So I invite everyone in Gloucester to tune in for Monday's field hearing. I know what fishing has meant to Massachusetts' history — and I'm working every day to make sure it will be a thriving part of our state's future.
John Kerry represents Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.