NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

May 21, 2013

Our view: Feds must hold Commerce to law on fishery aid

Disappointing, embarrassing, offensive — all of those words can be applied to the fact that White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett largely ignored Gov. Deval Patrick’s call for executive action to overturn the dire NOAA limit cuts now threatening the Northeast groundfishery.

Yet, Jarrett’s — and presumably, the president’s — inaction is not surprising. While trumpeting his agenda calling for “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and after bailing out some of the nation’s and the world’s financial giants because “they were too big too fail,” the president and others in his administration have long since shown they believe it would be just fine if the Northeast fishing industry failed. He and his Department of Commerce — which declared the Northeast groundfishery an “economic disaster” yet has not provided a dime to address it — have shown no concern about the jobs already lost and fishing businesses that are folding under the NOAA’s corporately driven catch share management system.

Commerce and NOAA, however, should at least be required to operate under federal law. And at least one such law already in place would provide the beleaguered industry with support it deserves and needs.

The measure in question is the 1954 Kennedy-Saltonstall Act, which — crafted by two Massachusetts senators, John F. Kennedy and Leverett Saltonstall — called for 30 percent of all U.S. tariff revenues raised through seafood imports to be given to the Department of Commerce, and that 60 percent of that be used for “fishery industry projects.” Over time, Congress has shifted the Saltonstall-Kennedy revenues into NOAA’s operating budget.

Congressman John Tierney has a current bill that would essentially restore the Saltonstall-Kennedy provisions for the industry, and he has the right approach. But the truth is, that bill should not even be necessary; the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act has not been repealed or reformed, it is simply being ignored by NOAA officials, and our lawmakers have, until Tierney’s latest effort, allowed them to ignore it.

The time for that to end is at hand. Yes, it will put a crimp of up to $150 million in NOAA’s budget, but it is long past time for this rogue agency to be held accountable under the law.

Just call it NOAA’s own “day of reckoning.”

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