, Newburyport, MA

January 17, 2014

Editorial: Fishing aid still no long-term industry solution

Newburyport Daily News

---- — 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.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will no doubt hear extensive and important discussions regarding how this desperately needed aid will be distributed into the hands of fishermen — those fishermen who have been driven, in some cases, to sell their boats and even put their homes on the block to maintain their own financial health.

But amid those talks, let’s also make certain that significant changes to the regulatory process in the Magnuson are front and center at the discussion table as well. For without them, this type of aid package, or greater, will likely be needed again and again and again.

That’s not the long-term solution we need.