NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 4, 2014

Our view:Fishermen deserve fast-track delivery of direct federal aid

The word last week that $11 million of the $32.8 million allocated to New England states and New York under a federal fisheries disaster aid package will go directly to fishermen is welcome news to anyone who has followed the government-fueled downturn forced upon this industry.

The direct aid allocation — one of three prime components of the deal agreed to by the fishery directors at the six recipient states and announced by NOAA officials last Wednesday afternoon — should steer $32,463 to each of the region’s 336 eligible permit holders. And while that hardly makes up for the losses many have sustained over the last five years under NOAA’s catch share system and absurdly tightened catch limits, it at least sends a good chunk of this overdue money right to fishing’s front lines.

But while it’s understandable that sorting out aspects of the funding package will take up to five months — noted by John Bullard, NOAA’s regional administrator, and confirmed by Mary Griffin, commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game — that should not be the case for the aid being paid directly to the permit holders. And we can only hope that NOAA and state officials will find a way to put the direct aid on a fast track to those who have been most affected by the ongoing crisis.

The distribution of the New England federal fisheries aid package — part of an overall $75 million fishery disaster aid developed through the U.S. Senate and House Appropriations committees earlier this year — comes across as a compromise among state fishery officials from Maine through New York, as the other two components of the distribution plan indicate.

In addition to the direct aid, the regional distribution plan will direct about $11 million in specific grants to individual states, which can distribute the money with “some flexibility to determine the most appropriate way to address the unique and varied needs of their fishing communities.” And it will steer another $11 million or so into vessel buyout or buyback plan — an important piece to the puzzle that still needs to be developed.

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