By Richard Gaines
---- — The Northeast Seafood Coalition, the region’s largest industry group, has announced plans to host a public rally at the Boston Fish Pier next Monday at 11 a.m. to build support for the government to provide disaster assistance to the groundfishing industry and communities from which home-port the fleet.
“This is the time for industry, friends of the industry, and seafood consumers to come together and ask for help,” said Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based coalition. “We’re excited to unite in Boston, the hub of the Northeast groundfish fishery, to discuss important issues affecting the industry today and how we can preserve the fleet for tomorrow.”
The coalition’s rally will come just two days before the start of the 2013 fishing year for the groundfishing industry, which has been in accelerating decline since the Obama administration’s policy push to convert the fishing industry to a catch share management system that encourages fishermen to sell or trade shares of quota — and has steered more and more quota to bigger boats and corporations while smaller, independent vessels, like many of the day boats out of Gloucester, have been driven to the sidelines.
The May 1 start of the new fishing year is also set to bring dramatic cuts in catch limits, up to a 77 percent cut in allowable landings of Gulf of Maine cod, a standard of the New England seafood industry.
The acting commerce secretary, Rebecca Blank, declared the Northeast groundfishery to be an “economic disaster” last September, but neither the Commerce Department nor Congress have committed any money or regulatory changes toward addressing the problem.
The rally marks a dramatic change in tact for the Seafood Coalition, which has not participated as an organization in the industry’s rallies in the past.
A smallish rally in Gloucester, at the headquarters of the Northeast Regional offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fishery service in October 2009, morphed into major tri-coastal rallies at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in early 2010 and 2011.
In recent days, together with the state legislative delegation, the coalition circulated for signatures a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick, asking that he urge the president to modify the decision by NOAA to cut the cod landings and those of other essential fish so drastically for the coming year.
The Commerce Department budget for fiscal 2014, meanwhile, does not include any request for disaster relief, and the White House has remained mute in the fact of the crisis, which is expected widely to bring many fishing ports to their end and others to catastrophe.
The delay in declaring the disaster made disaster relief difficult to push through the lame duck session of Congress, and the superceding needs of the victims of Hurricane Sandy all but shut the door in the face of the fishermen, with President Obama giving the industry no signs of support — financial or otherwise — after the election.
One federal lawmaker who has continued to press for action is Congressman John Tierney, whose 6th Massachusetts District includes all of Cape Ann.
“Along with many fishermen, groundfish industry leaders, elected officials, and other stakeholders, I have consistently pressed the Department of Commerce, the White House, and Congress for greater attention to the issues facing our fisheries, and we will continue to do so,” said Tierney, who said in an email he will speak at the rally in Boston.
“The upcoming fishing years for the Northeast groundfish fishery were supposed to be a time of prosperity— key stocks were on target to rebuild by 2014,” the Seafood Coalition said in a prepared statement. “Now, however, despite adhering to strict science and management measures and remaining within allowable catch limits, the Northeast commercial groundfish fishery has been declared a disaster.
”This industry has faced numerous hardships over the years, but nothing like what is to come May 1,” the coalition statement added. “The industry will face crippling reductions in catch limits of up to 77 percent on key groundfish stocks. Fishermen and their families face a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances, which will cause severe hardship for not only small fishing businesses, but fishing communities, on-shore businesses, and American seafood consumers.”
The statement said the coalition expects hundreds of groundfish fishermen, shore-side businesses representatives, and friends of the groundfish industry to attend the Boston rally.
For those planning to join the demonstration, the coalition indicated that, due to extremely limited parking on the Boston Fish Pier, free parking will be available at 22 Fid Kennedy Avenue, a short distance from the Pier. The coalition will provide a shuttle service from the parking lot to the rally.
Coalition organizers are asking that those planning to attend to park no later than 10:15 a.m. Anyone seeking more information may visit http://northeastseafoodcoalition.org/Industry_Rally.html.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.