NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

November 6, 2013

Our view: Slowly, fishing reforms make headway

Since May 1 — the start of the new commercial season — the dire catch limits clamped on Gulf of Maine cod and other species by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has turned the spotlight on the industry’s increasingly urgent need.

The need is for a financial aid package addressing what had been recognized by the Department of Commerce as a legitimate “economic disaster.” Congressman John Tierney and other federal lawmakers had sought to provide relief for months.

In recent weeks, some signs of that potential aid have surfaced.

First came a pool of up to $10 million in NOAA money through the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act. Yes, that’s just a tenth of what the 1954 act meant to provide when it was designed to steer 30 percent of all imported seafood tariff money toward marketing the domestic fishing industry and funding improvements for it. But the $10 million has spurred a rash of applications, including a total of seven from Gloucester alone.

Then came a Small Business Administration low-interest loan program just approved Friday for fishermen or waterfront businesses who could get up to $2 million each at a rate of 4 percent over up to 30 years — if they qualify for it, which most struggling fishermen cannot.

But on Monday, a hearing hosted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other lawmakers, including Tierney, reminded us all of the type of help that New England fishermen truly need — and it may not cost U.S. taxpayers a dime.

Monday’s Boston hearing did not focus on how to throw money at the fishing crisis, but on carrying our reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which is up for reauthorization and sits at the core of the fishing crisis.

For too many years, NOAA officials have been allowed to ignore one important act “standard” that requires the feds to take into account the economic impact of any new regulations and policies on fishing communities such as Gloucester. And the act continues to require the rebuilding of all fish stocks under a tight timeline that fishermen and even many scientists agree is not unrealistic — and current science can’t effectively measure fish populations in the first place.

From the start, fishermen have not had their hands out for money. Any long-term solution to the crisis in the fisheries can only come through significant reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and it was good to see those issues returned to center stage.

Now it’s up to Sen. Warren, Congressman Tierney and all who truly care about America’s fisheries to keep it there — until these reforms become reality.

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