By Richard Gaines
---- — The U.S. House Rules Committee has barred fisheries disaster relief funding from the amendments to a Superstorm Sandy supplemental spending package that go to the floor today.
The decision, made Monday night, was expected by many, but it leaves Gloucester, New Bedford and lesser groundfishing ports without the hope or expectation of short-term financial aid even as the commercial fleets continue to consolidate in the face of reduced catch limits and potentially catastrophic constrictions in opportunity looming in the 2013 fishing year.
On a party-line vote, the Republican majority on the committee refused to allow amendments that would have provided in excess of $100 million to the Northeast groundfishery in response to the acting Commerce secretary’s declaration in September that the fishery had fallen into an “economic disaster.”
Amendments to provide relief for the groundfisheren and other waterfront businesses were filed by Democratic Congressmen John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, William Keating of Quincy and Ed Markey of Malden.
The rulings mean the Sandy relief package coming from the House will require conference reconciliation with the Senate version of the Sandy relief package, which totaled more than $60 billion and included $150 million for fisheries disasters — primarily the Northeast groundfishery ports in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.
The Senate would also have funded aid for the Mississippi crab and oyster fishery, and the Alaska Chinook salmon fishery, which were declared disasters by Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank last year.
In a message that conflicts with the disaster declarations, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco claimed in a Dec. 12 email to subordinates announcing her decision to resign at the end of February that she had made progress in “ending over-fishing, rebuilding depleted stocks, and returning fishing to profitability.”
Tierney issued an email denouncing the Republican action.
“Despite the Department of Commerce fisheries disaster declarations, and notwithstanding the fact that the Senate passed a relief package on a bipartisan basis that included $150 million for fisheries in Massachusetts and other affected states, House Republicans made a callous and outrageous decision last night to block a vote on my amendment to provide critical aid to our fishing communities,” Tierney said. “Helping our fishermen and providing them sufficient disaster relief should not be a partisan issue, but, unfortunately, the Republicans on the House Rule Committee have made it one.
“I am extremely disappointed,” Tierney added, “and look to Speaker (John) Boehner to make our fisheries a priority immediately. We need to provide additional disaster relief and we need to focus on reforming the laws that are negatively impacting our fishing communities.”
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Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3464, or at email@example.com.