BOSTON (AP) — The U.S. Commerce Department yesterday declared a national fishery disaster in New England, opening the door for tens of millions of dollars in relief funds for struggling fishermen and their ports.
Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said the declaration comes amid “unexpectedly slow rebuilding of stocks,” which is forcing huge fishing cuts for 2013 that are jeopardizing the New England industry. Blank said her agency also determined the troubles with fish stocks have come even though fishermen are following rules designed to prevent overfishing.
“The future challenges facing the men and women in this industry and the shore-based businesses that support them are daunting, and we want to do everything we can to help them through these difficult times,” Blank said.
The declaration doesn’t guarantee money will be funneled toward fishermen, but U.S. Sen. John Kerry said it’s a big step forward.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has committed to include $100 million for fishermen and fishing communities in emergency assistance legislation that will be debated during the lame-duck session after the election, Kerry said Thursday. Lawmakers must now fight for the money in a potentially reluctant Congress, he said.
Kerry compared fishermen to farmers — both are dependent on the vagaries of the ecosystem and both are deserving of assistance when unavoidable problems arise, like when farmers face a drought, he said.
“We put billions into the heartland of our country for farmers,” said Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat. “That’s what legislating is about, that’s what the federal government is here for, is to treat the nation as a nation and to share these kind of crises, when they occur.”
Chatham fisherman John Our said aid is justified to make up for damage done by federal mismanagement. The fisheries are in such rough shape that Our laid off two crewmen this year and gets by in a thinned-out fishery by going out solo to catch dogfish, a one-time trash fish.