The overdue and expected arrival of some $75 million in federal aid for the Northeast groundfishery and others recognized as “economic disasters” should provide welcome relief for fishermen and related businesses that have been pushed to a collective brink of bankruptcy.
But for all the well-deserved kudos extended to federal lawmakers who stood by this needed aid package — which gained U.S. Senate approval last night — it’s important that all involved recognize the fact that this is a very short-term fix.
For without regulatory reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the process by which NOAA can set yearly, stock-by-stock catch limits, many of the fishermen who are due this disaster aid now will be forced right back to the table seeking more federal assistance next year and/or the years that follow.
The ironic aspect of this disaster aid approval is that, at the start, fishermen and related waterfront businesses never wanted or reached out for government handouts in the first place.
Their hands were simply forced by lopsided, heavy-handed fishing limits and enforcement tactics that were cited as excessive by the Department of Commerce’s own Inspector General’s Office beginning in 2009, yet still haven’t been adequately addressed by either NOAA or its parental Commerce leadership.
And those hands were left no choice when, with the Northeast groundfishery already a federally recognized economic disaster, NOAA Northeast administrator John Bullard clamped down dire limit cuts of up to 78 percent despite still-shaky scientific data, a lawsuit from the state Attorney General’s Office, justified outcries from state and federal lawmakers — and a vote to do otherwise from the New England Fishery Management Council, which is supposed to help govern the fishery and found out the hard way it really has no definitive say at all.