The approval by the U.S. Senate last Friday of a $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy relief package that includes some $150 million in aid to the commercial fishing industry in the New England states and New York marked at least one step forward in addressing the Commerce Department’s recognition of the groundfishery as a true economic “disaster” for communities such as Gloucester, New Bedford and many others.
But, with questions still looming Monday over whether any such package would be taken up or clear the U.S. House, it’s also interesting to note that the fisheries aid part of the deal survived the Senate bill only after a floor vote shot down a bid to scuttle it pushed by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and none other than Arizona Republican John McCain. And as we noted previously, despite the efforts and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, there are very legitimate questions as to whether the fisheries aid funding deserves to be lumped in with any relief aimed at helping the primarily Middle Atlantic state victims of Sandy’s devastation.
Yes, fishermen are entitled to disaster aid stemming from the economic calamity documented more than a year ago by Gov. Deval Patrick through the marine science program at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. And the Sandy relief bill — which would grant aid to Middle Atlantic fishermen directly affected by that storm — gives Kerry and other fishing state lawmakers an avenue to seek the aid that was never even referenced in the September economic disaster declaration announced by acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank.
But, as we noted previously, tacking any fishery “disaster” aid onto the relief for Superstorm Sandy suggests that the fisheries disaster is also one of nature’s making — and it’s not. While Blank’s declaration suggests that the fishery disaster’s cause is largely a decline in the fish stocks, the fact is that it is a man-made — and, in effect, a manufactured – product of our own federal government.