By Marjorie Nesin
---- — As numerous Gloucester fishing vessels rest at the dock, with fishermen unable to cut a profit, NOAA announced Thursday a plan not to directly bail out fishermen but to fund projects that the agency expects to eventually rebuild the industry.
The $5 to $10 million in potential funds for the current fiscal year would allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to dole out awards that would mostly range between $30,000 and $250,000 for fishing-related projects.
City officials and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren are applauding the funding plan.
“I’m pleased NOAA is making this grant solicitation, which is an excellent chance for our ports to secure funding that will help the fishing industry innovate and modernize for the future,” Warren said in a prepared statement.
The money comes from a tariff on foreign imported fish. When the United States began increasing foreign fish imports around 1954, Congress voted to allot some 30 percent of tariff revenues to assisting the fishing industry, under legislation called the Saltonstall Kennedy Act, for then-senators Leverett Saltonstall and president-to-be John F. Kennedy.
In recent years, even with the United States now importing 92 percent of its seafood from foreign shores, those tariffs dropped straight into NOAA research. But NOAA’s Thursday announcement proposed injecting some of that money back into the harbor to be used in “carrying out projects related to U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries” in hopes of “rebuilding and maintaining sustainable fisheries practices.”
While the announcement lists off many potential projects surrounding aquaculture and harbor research, it also dips into examining the socio-economic impacts of measures like quotas on certain fisheries, and would encourage projects meant to expand the buying markets for local seafood.
City Harbor Planning Director Sarah Garcia was excited by NOAA’s announcement, saying it goes right along with the city’s so-called bridge plan for transitioning the fishing fleet and uses within the harbor. Her department is willing to support any Gloucester people interested in applying for a portion of the funds.
“We want to make sure that as a city anyone on our waterfront is supported in writing proposals for this,” Garcia said.
The applications are due within the next 60 days, and Garcia said she hopes to see some money dispersed before Christmas.
When it comes to assisting the fishermen, Garcia said, projects that would work toward expanding and diversifying the fishermen’s market for less popular and lower valued species like redfish would qualify for funds. She also pointed out that the city will encourage scientists to lease fishermen’s vessels for any projects.
“We’ll bend over backwards for the fishermen,” Garcia said. “I don’t think there’s anyone in any agency who doesn’t want to see money go to the fishermen as soon as possible.”
Valerie Nelson, a local harbor front activist who has helped head up the city’s Maritime Summits that encourage these types of projects, said the funding would be a chance for Gloucester to see a significant amount of money fed into the harbor.
“I know this can’t be money for the mortgage and all that, but this has to be an investment in the industry,” Nelson said. “Gloucester should grab it, and fishermen should be a part of it, and it’s a great opportunity to keep this fishing industry moving forward.”
Nelson saw the goal of the funds as a return to a successful fishing industry in the long run.
“What it’s really doing is showing there’s a future in this industry. Gloucester is out there claiming a future,” Nelson said.
But, for fishermen who are losing money when their boats do leave their piers, “eventually” is not soon enough.
As Gloucester fisherman Joe DiMaio put it, “There is no time.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.