The crisis facing the Massachusetts and New Engand fishing industry wasn’t a focal point of the second debate between U.S. Senate hopefuls Republican Gabriel Gomez and Democrat Edward Markey in Springfield Tuesday night, but the two men vying for the seat previously held by John Kerry staked out their fishery stands in the hours prior to the event.
In a question-and-answer session with the State House News Service, both candidates staked out claims to support the state’s fishermen, but from different angles.
“I stand with the Attorney General (Martha Coakley) for standing up for these fishermen and suing regulators in Washington who think they know or care more about the ocean than the fishermen who make their lives from it,” said Gomez, referring to Coakley’s lawsuit that aims to put a halt to new catch limit cuts that are crippling the industry.
“I’ve sat with the fishermen in New Bedford and Gloucester,” he said. “They described how their way of life is being threatened and drastic catch limits being imposed by NOAA will bankrupt a proud livelihood that has been a part of our coastal economy since before there was a Massachusetts.
“This program currently relies on flawed science and overreaching regulations that don’t account for the regional economic impact,” Gomez added. “Local fishermen don’t want welfare, they want to be allowed to work.”
Markey also acknowledged that “Massachusetts fishermen and their families are hurting right now.”
“I recently sat down with fishermen in Gloucester, and they told me how they need more help. I’ve heard that in New Bedford, on the Cape, and around the fishing communities of Massachusetts,” he said.
But Markey, who has drawn fire from fishermen and some of their backers for opposing new flexibility in the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act and for his support of so-called ocean zoning that could lead to more closed fishing areas, targeted the need for financial aid.
“First of all, we need to give our fishermen economic assistance right now,” Markey said. “The federal government declared our fishery an economic disaster. Yet when Congressmen Keating, Tierney and I offered three different proposals to Republicans to fund relief efforts, they wouldn’t even allow a vote on any of them.
“We need to push NOAA and our other fisheries managers to give more flexibility to our fishermen,” Markey said. “I successfully lobbied with other members of Congress to force NOAA to allow carryover of catch quotas from 2012 to 2013, and to pay for at-sea monitoring costs.
“In the long-term, we need to ensure that the best science is being used, in collaboration with fishing communities,” he added. “We need more frequent stock assessments. And we need to have a better understanding of what is changing in the ocean environment so we can better plan and help fishermen and their families.”
In their Tuesday debate in Springfield, Markey and Gomez clashed on everything from tax policy and the minimum wage to the National Security Agency’s collection of billions of Americans’ phone and Internet records.
Gomez said Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who claimed responsibility for revealing the surveillance programs, should be labeled a “traitor” if any of the leaked information ends up harming anyone.
Markey said Snowden should accept responsibility for making the information public, but Markey also said Americans shouldn’t have to sacrifice all their privacy protections to find what he called the “guilty needle” in the “innocent haystack.”
Both candidates said they support a $10 federal minimum wage, but Gomez said the larger goal should be to help Americans aim even higher rather than be satisfied with scraping by.
“People don’t want to earn just $10 an hour,” the former Navy SEAL said. “They want a chance at the American Dream.”
Markey said that for many Americans, winning a $10 an hour minimum wage is a first step toward that dream.
The two candidates also debated tax policy.
Markey said the nation should end tax breaks for oil companies and other corporations. He said those breaks are draining away a critical source of revenue.
“Subsidizing the oil industry is like subsidizing a fish to swim and a bird to fly,” Markey said. “You simply don’t have to do it.”
Gomez said he supports closing corporate and personal tax loopholes. He also said he backs lowering the federal corporate tax rate to encourage companies to bring more of their money back into the country to be taxed.
Gomez also said the country needs a more streamlined tax system.
“We should also be able to do our own taxes in a simple, efficient way,” he said.
Markey and Gomez also split on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring oil from western Canada to Texas.
Gomez said the project would bring more jobs to the United States, while Markey said the United States would end up bearing all the environmental risk while the oil itself is dumped onto the international market.
The two were also asked what they could do to help improve the economy in western Massachusetts. The unemployment rate in Springfield tops 10 percent, much higher than the state as a whole.
Gomez said one way to protect local jobs is to repeal the medical device tax included in President Barack Obama’s 2010 federal health care law. He said the tax is harming businesses across Massachusetts.
Markey said he supported a number of job-creating projects in western Massachusetts including the planned Union Station regional transportation center in Springfield.
Asked about whether they would support changes to federal marijuana laws, Markey said he supported the ballot question in Massachusetts allowing the medicinal use of marijuana.
Gomez said the question should be left up to individual states instead of the federal government, but he would personally not support anything beyond the medicinal use of marijuana.
Tuesday’s debate comes a day after a Suffolk University poll showed Markey has the backing of 48 percent of voters compared with 41 percent for Gomez. The new poll of 500 voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points and was conducted June 6-9.
A final debate sponsored by a consortium of Boston media outlets will be held at WGBH-TV on June 18. The special election is June 25.