Congressman John Tierney Monday announced his intention to file legislation to tap seafood import tariffs as a revenue source — and estimated to be in the range of $100 million — for disaster assistance to the Northeast groundfishery and other fisheries recognized by the Department of Commerce as economic disasters.
Tierney’s spokeswoman, Kathryn Prael, said that the congressman was seeking co-sponsors, and was confident of finding broad, bipartisan support.
Before it expired Jan. 3, the lame-duck 112th Congress failed to approve $150 million in fisheries disaster relief proposed by then-Sen. John Kerry and co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans across the New England delegations of both chambers. Tierney was also a co-sponsor of the House version.
The acting Commerce Secretary, Rebecca Blank, last September declared the Northeast groundfishery a disaster based on existing socio-economic data and dimming prospects for 2013.
Last week, the New England Fishery Management Council recommended cutting inshore cod landings by 77 percent and landings from Georges Bank by 66 percent — reductions that, if approved as expected by the Commerce Department, would produce a historic decline in landings by commercial and recreational sectors, causing what most believe would be a crushing economic ripple through the ports of the region from Maine to New York. Gloucester, which is represented by Tierney, is the center of New England’s inshore cod fishery; New Bedford, the main port for boats working offshore Georges Bank.
Tierney’s bill would redirect import tariffs for fiscal 2014 on seafood and fish products — which now account for more than 90 percent of domestic consumption — to fisheries disaster relief. The amount would be calculated in October, at the start of the federal 2014 fiscal year, and redirected into fisheries aid.
The bill is a permutation of earlier legislation aimed at redirecting the revenue stream from import tariffs to fisheries as originally intended by the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act. That act mandated that 30 percent of fish tariff revenues be given by the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Commerce — and that Commerce use at last 60 percent for “fishery industry projects.” Over time, however, Congress has shifted the Saltonstall-Kennedy revenues into NOAA’s operating budget.