By Richard Gaines
---- — The quest for funding to back a government declaration that the Northeast groundfishery and two others have economically failed for reasons not attributable to fishermen shifts now from what industry supporters see as an unsympathetic, Republican-led U.S. House to a more understanding Senate.
And the push from state and federal lawmakers seeking to put money behind the Commerce Department’s September 2012 “economic disaster” declaration is shifting there with it.
A Democrat-heavy coalition in the House late Tuesday approved a $51 billion Superstorm Sandy relief package, but only after barring amendments that would also have steered $150 million to the groundfishery disaster states of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York. Some fishing aid in the Senate bill was also targeted for Mississippi, whose crab and oyster fisheries are facing disasters of nature and the Alaska Chinook salmon fishery, which has also been declared a disaster.
Congressmen John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, William Keating, whose district includes the ports of Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod and Ed Markey, who serves a landlocked district but has announced plans to run for U.S. Senate, all filed amendments to the House’s Sandy package that were ruled out of consideration for the Sandy package.
The House package was passed 241-180 with 179 Republicans, mostly hard-line fiscal conservatives, voting against the leadership proposal. Approving were 42 Republicans, including the House Speaker, John Boehner, and 199 Democrats — including Tierney, Keating and Markey.
Tierney said Wednesday he was shocked at how unsympathetic Republicans were to the needs of victims of the superstorm — not to mention the fisheries disaster which has a more complex set of causes than wind, rain, floods and fire.
The Senate now takes up the Sandy relief legislation, but the $60 billion package it approved in the final days of 2012 included the fisheries disaster relief sponsored by the delegations of the groundfishery states.
State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante wrote Wednesday to Sens. John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren, urging them to restore the fisheries disaster relief funding, after taking a shot at the House leadership and the mismanagement of fisheries by outgoing NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.
“I am deeply disappointed that the Republican leadership in the United States House ignored the bipartisan advocacy of Massachusetts state elected officials to remedy the damage that Jane Lubchenco and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has inflicted on our community, small businesses, and fishermen,” Ferrante wrote. “The mismanagement of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under the direction of Jane Lubchenco, has directly adversely impacted and worsened the plight of fishermen, their families, small businesses and our community.
“Only fairness and equity will preserve one of the nation’s earliest professions by extending to these small business owners the financial resources necessary to remedy the industry’s mismanagement by the federal government,” wrote Ferrante, who has advised Warren on fisheries issues. “Surely, only better management propelled by more accurate science and reasonable interpretation will restore our industry. However, small fishing businesses cannot continue to hold on to that day without the resources necessary to sustain them.
“I ask you to use all of your good efforts to fight for our community, its local economy, its heritage and identity,” she wrote, “and to restore and preserve the federal disaster relief aid for the New England Fishing Industry.
Ferrante also wrote to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I am asking you to stand firm in the likeness of one of your mentors, (the late) Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was the champion of Massachusetts senators,” Ferrante wrote, “and to help the Massachusetts delegation of John Kerry and Elizabeth Warren to see that this aid for our fishermen, their families, their businesses, and our community stays in the Senate Appropriation Bill and the final conference bill with House Republicans.
“Without your help and your leadership, my fear is that many of our families and small businesses, which have been financially wounded by the mismanagement of NOAA will lose their livelihoods, their homes and their children’s future prospects for higher education,” she wrote. “Moreover, as a community leader, I fear that our port will lose its historic and renowned identity as one of the nation’s leading commercial seaports.”
State Sen. Bruce Tarr wrote to House Speaker Boehner using sharp language to condemn the decision of the House Rules Committee to bar fisheries relief amendments from the Sandy bill.
Tarr, a Republican like Boehner, is state Senate minority leader.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.