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January 18, 2013

Editorial: Fed lawmakers miss key point on fishery 'disaster'

The removal of $150 million worth of “disaster” relief for fishermen in Gloucester, across New England and elsewhere in the Northeast groundfishery from a bill allocating billions in aid to the victims of Superstorm Sandy certainly came as no surprise.

As we’ve noted previously – and despite the earnest push by state lawmakers Ann-Margaret Ferrante and Bruce Tarr to get the aid back into a relief package in the Senate, where it previously had already gained approval — there is a context to keeping the aid package for Sandy’s natural disaster as free as possible from extraneous add-ons that have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

But while abruptly dropping the fisheries aid without any alternative, and while including other amendments, the vast majority of federal lawmakers — especially on the Republican side of the aisle — also showed that they simply don’t grasp the most important aspect of the economic “disaster” declared for the Northeast groundfishery by acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank in September. That’s the fact that, while Superstorm Sandy brought unforeseen cleanup costs, the economic disaster recognized by the aptly named Blank and her Commerce and NOAA colleagues wasn’t unforeseen at all. And despite claims to the contrary in her own disaster declaration, it is not merely a case of declining stocks and other natural factors.

It is — as Gov. Deval Patrick’s own emergency aid application notes — an economic disaster for fishermen and fishing communities created largely by our own government, namely through the job-killing catch-share management policies of outgoing NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.

In that context, this fisheries disaster aid should not be viewed as a case of additional spending, during a time of justifiable concern over the need for federal debt consolidation. It should be viewed, in fact, as a financial package aimed at righting a wrong carried out by Lubchenco and her NOAA and Commerce cohorts. And it should indeed be viewed as a package worthy of its own bill — even if it mandates that the funding appropriately come from the Commerce and NOAA budget allocations.

We can only hope congressional lawmakers take note and realize that as well.

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