The Associated Press

Disaster Relief Sought For New England Fishermen

BOSTON — The federal government should declare a disaster in the New England commercial fishing industry after regulators warned of severe reductions in future catch limits, members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation said Friday.

The potential impact of the cuts, triggered by dwindling groundfish stocks, would be “absolutely devastating” on fishermen and the 80,000 or so jobs that rely on the fishing industry in the Bay State alone, Democratic Sen. John Kerry said at a Boston news conference.

Kerry, Republican Sen. Scott Brown and several U.S. House members whose districts include coastal areas issued a joint statement asking President Barack Obama’s administration to issue a disaster declaration, which they said would help speed economic assistance to the fishing industry.

While New England governors and congressional representatives have made similar appeals for disaster relief in the past, “the evidence is now overwhelming in favor of such a declaration,” Friday’s statement read.

The U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the fishing industry, has not acted on the previous requests.

Fishermen were told at a meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council’s groundfish committee on Thursday that some species are in such poor condition that catch limits – the amount fishermen can legally take – would have to be sharply reduced next year.

For example, officials said catch limits for cod could fall by 72 percent from this year’s levels in the Gulf of Maine and by 70 percent on the Georges Bank fishing grounds off Cape Cod, according to preliminary estimates.

The congressional delegation members said the decline in groundfish stocks could not be blamed on overfishing but instead is tied to environmental and climate factors. Kerry compared the plight of fishermen to that of drought-stricken farmers in the nation’s midsection.

“In the Midwest right now, the heat and the drought are destroying crops,” Kerry said. “Off our coastline, Mother Nature is taking away our fish.”

Kerry sponsored an amendment to the Senate version of a farm disaster relief bill that also would offer help to New England fishermen.

He said thousands of Massachusetts fishing families likely would benefit from a disaster declaration. He also said federal fishing regulators were being urged to conduct an “end-to-end” review of the scientific methodology used to evaluate fishing stocks, citing wide fluctuations in recent groundfish assessments.

“You have a variation of something like 16 percent reduction to a 61 percent reduction in available stock,” he said. “That kind of range does not lend confidence to fishermen that people really know what they are talking about.”

The delegation requested a meeting in Massachusetts with Sam Rauch, acting assistant administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, to discuss the fishing allocation process and what options were available for fishermen.

The Northeast Seafood Coalition, an organization of commercial fishing businesses, said in a statement issued after Thursday’s council meeting that federal regulators can no longer hold fishermen responsible for factors beyond their control.

“At this point in time, everything has to be on the table – science, management and the law,” the coalition said.

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  • DougC

    Sad to say, and sad to see, but commercial fishing with new technology and ( often indiscriminate) massive catch capability is not likely to be replace by fishing the old way, and at the rate of consumption, there will be a lot less fish, dangerously so, without a lot of regulation.   Recreational fishing (hooks and line one at a time, keep what you can eat or catch and release) was the result of ability to fish large qtys with other methods.  Now larger qtys with even newer methods have put too much stress on too many species and messing up the balances in the oceans.  We have messed with our own food chain way too much.  Boutique, local fresh commercial fishing, is not likely to replace massive captures.   If  something isn’t done, and soon, and for now managing species through regulation is the only real arrow in the quiver, fish will get even more expensive than it is, as stocks are further depleted, until it is beyond reach for many (close enough already).  Then if we have cut into populations enough, the whole sea population will go through a dramatic shift, not likely just to return to “what it was”.  Then we may, or may not be able to start the whole cycle over again.  Sadly, it is the bigger commercial fisheries that need the most regulation.  As catches become smaller with smaller fishing boats and techniques, the big “nets” have all the “hooks” in the politics and are less impacted than the small guys.  The bigger they come, the harder they fight and the more they often win.

  • Oliver Wendell Holmes

    Doug is correct.
    The fact that  ‘factory’ fishing methods are ridiculously harmful, and unsustainable and should have been outlawed from the begining, is irrelevent in our political system, where bigger gets the biggest share.
    As a New Englander, I have just as much empathy for struggling fishermen as the next guy, but when push comes to shove like it is now, I need to stand on the side of protection of the ocean, and its resources so posterity won’t point its finger at my generation as being the one that killed the goose.
    John Kerry, wake up.

  • Guest

    Why don’t we just put a 5 year moratorium on fishing!!!! Obviously, these people are just GREEDY to be over fishing the waters without any concern for the environment. What GREED.

    This is NOT about JOBS; it’s about the fish. The fish have only one environment, whereas, the fisherpeople can go get another job. If they are hungry, then grab a pole and go catch dinner but leave your boats moored.

    Furthermore, how safe are the fish in today’s waters?  Should anyone be eating fish? I know most people don’t seem to be concerned about the safety of their food or they wouldn’t be eating processed foods or eating at a “fast food” hut. The statistics prove the ills of this country.

    Try planting a garden and see how much food that provides. I’m canning squash at the moment and have so much, I am giving it away to friends. Then there are the beans, peppers, lettuce, and watermelons with which I must deal.

    THERE ARE MANY ALTERNATIVES to fish and we better get good at producing it or people are going to go without. It would help the MOST to start reducing the population on this planet.  Seriously, address the BIG issues we are facing today!!!!

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