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January 16, 2013

House stymies aid for fisheries

After eliminating a brace of fisheries disaster assistance options written by Congressman John Tierney and two Massachusetts colleagues, the U.S. House went to work on a massive Hurricane Sandy relief package Tuesday.

Two bills before the House would together appropriate $51 billion for “Sandy relief” programs, and much of the money is unrelated to the October 2012 super storm or is of a non-emergency nature. But none of that will go to address the recognized Northeast “economic disaster” declared by the Department of Commerce in the commercial fishing industry.

The decision to exclude more than $100 million in fisheries relief from the Sandy supplemental aid bill, made Monday night by a party-line vote of the Republican controlled House Rules Committee, was expected by many. But it leaves Gloucester, New Bedford and smaller 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.

The exclusion of the fisheries relief was condemned Tuesday by the Marine Fish Conservation Network, an organization of fishing and conservation groups, including Conservation Law Foundation, Oceania, the National Resource Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

In floor debate Tuesday, Tierney urged the House to reject the House Rules Committee decision to exclude fisheries relief from the Sandy package. He chastised the leadership for turning a bipartisan problem into a straight party-line matter.

The final House version of the Sandy disaster supplemental spending bill goes back to the Senate, which approved a $60.4 billion Sandy supplemental last December, but because the 112th Congress expired Jan. 3, the 113th Senate must decide anew what to do. The previous Senate’s bill included $150 million in fisheries disaster relief for Massachusetts, the other coastal New England states and New York.

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