GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 23, 2013

Fishery budget bill gets mixed reviews

Locals back research, aid; decry pulling NOAA office

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — Officials and fishery advocates at various levels in Gloucester and across the state say they’ll fight a provision in a U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee bill that would break apart the Gloucester’s Northeast Regional headquarters of NOAA, but they and other agencies are on board with a measure in the same budget bill that would make force NOAA scientists to work with fishermen on stock assessments.

Mayor Carolyn Kirk issued a letter to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey Monday, thanking them for the support of the bill that could also steer up to $150 million in economic disaster aid to fishing fleets, primarily in the Northeast, while urging everyone to have one, unified voice.

“We are particularly pleased to see that largely all of the elements of the ‘Bridge Plan’ that was constructed in Gloucester by a broad spectrum of industry stakeholders have been included in the bill,” Kirk’s letter reads, referring to a part of the bill that would direct 10 percent of federal seafood import tariff revenues toward community-based projects that would modernize fishing fleets and improve waterfronts.

However, citing the financial impact and communication between the fishing industry and Gloucester, Kirk and others also want to curb the idea of closing the regional NOAA office in Blackburn Industrial Park.

Kirk points out the building was only recently constructed at “considerable” cost to the federal government, and serves as a direct link between NOAA and the city’s fishing industry.

“I want to state unequivocably the need for NOAA management to stay in Gloucester,” the letter reads. “A move would not only mean a negative economic impact and job loss or disruptive relocations for the 260 workers in our community, it would also undermine the connections and collaborations the city and (National Marine Fisheries Service) NMFS have begun to make that have led to progressive solutions for the industry.”

Kirk is not alone on the office closing aspect of the bill.

State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, while supporting Warren and committee bill which would refocus tariffs from the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act to aid fisheries rather than going into NOAA’s operations budget, would also like to see NOAA’s Northeast Regional Office stay in the city.

“In this economic climate, I would hate to see Gloucester lose any jobs,” she said. “This is an issue that is bigger than Gloucester and bigger than Warren in that NOAA cannot seem to get along with the Appropriation Committee chair.” That chair, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, initially pushed for shutting down NOAA’s Northeast office in 2012 because of the agency’s refusal to respond to an congressional calls, and that is among the reasons cited in the bill for closing it this time as well.

Congressman John Tierney shared Ferrante’s views, saying he supports the redirection of about 10 percent of tariffs from the Saltonstall-Kenney Act, away from NOAA’s budget and toward improving the cooperative research and science behind fishery management, similar to his own legislation. The move parallels a bill Tierney submitted last year.

But Tierney also said he is against shutting down the NOAA office, and was disappointed to see the provision in the Senate proposal.

“Rather than wasting time and energy on such an irresponsible plan (to close the office), we should be focused on how best to improve our fishing economy in Cape Ann and across the Northeast,” Tierney said.

Kirk said she believes the city and NOAA can work cooperatively to find common ground, and with John Bullard, NOAA’s regional administrator, said she also sees a chance for a positive future for the groundfishing industry.

“In this time of transition, keep the management of the northeast fishery located in Gloucester, and together let NOAA and the industry find the bridges to the future,” Kirks’ letter states.

Meanwhile, the Northeast Seafood Coalition and Environmental Defense Fund — two organizations which have been on opposite sides about the issue — have found common ground in the bill.

“We desperately need stability within our catch limits to sustain fish populations and our historic, devastated groundfish fishing industry,” Jackie Odell, executive director of the Seafood Coalition, wrote in an email to the Times.

Another aspect of the bill would make NOAA officials work more with fishermen by having them on the same boats.

“Cooperative research can and should have a direct link to enhancing and improving stock assessments so we can have more reliable science and management,” Odell said.

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has also recommended scientists and fishermen work cooperatively, is also supportive of the committee bill.

“Collaboration between scientists and the fishing industry is important to enhance fishery science and stock assessments during this critical time.” said Johanna Thomas, director of New England and Pacific EDF oceans programs. The EDF has also recommended the stock assessment process be reconfigured and redefined.

“The chartering of fishermen’s boats for cooperative stock assessment research is one way to help achieve this goal and to increase understanding and confidence in the process,” Thomas said.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.