It’s not surprising that the partial federal shutdown earlier this month would affect the evaluation and funding of winning proposals for grants aimed at helping fishermen and fishing communities adapt to their future on the water and on the waterfront.
But it’s a little hard to figure how a 16-day “shutdown” would push back the distribution of Saltonstall-Kennedy Act dollars to fishermen and local businesses by more than a month from the original target date, as NOAA officials are now saying.
Indeed, it would seem more appropriate if NOAA leaders, recognizing the dire straits fishermen and fishing communities are facing, opted to redouble and accelerate their efforts to go through the applications and parcel out the grants, rather than pushing the projected disbursement dates from late December to the end of January or early February, as noted in Wednesday’s Page 1 story.
Yet that’s the new timeframe outlined by NOAA, which has, through its catch share policies, questionable science methodology and tight new landing limits, gone a long way toward triggering the current fishing crisis in the first place.
There is good news regarding the pending Saltonstall-Kennedy grants, rooted in a 1954 congressional act that should have steered some 30 percent of all seafood tariff dollars into a fund for promoting and aiding the industry. NOAA spokeswoman Monica Allen indicated that the overall aid package — initially pegged at between $5 and $10 million — has been set at roughly $11 million under the NOAA budget for fiscal 2013, which just began federally on Oct. 1.
But lest we all start bowing to NOAA’s generosity, remember that, according to the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, the industry should be due more than $100 million under the 30 percent formula. Congress has wrongly allowed NOAA to take the industry’s 30 percent and plug the money into its own operational budget for decades. So don’t expect that extra $1 million to draw raucous cheers off the Jodrey State Fish Pier.
Yes, it will take time for NOAA officials to sort through the 261 S-K grant applications — 124 of them from the Northeast, and a half-dozen of those from Gloucester. But both the applying businesses, which include both fishermen and fishing-related local businesses, need to get started on these projects sooner rather than a month to six weeks later.
In that vein, NOAA should do all it can to accelerate these innovative solutions to the industry’s recognized “economic disaster.” These grants are needed now.