On the surface, the news that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be steering $18 million in grants through the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act to fishermen and waterfront businesses in the coming year stands as a bit of good news amid a renewed sea of fisheries crises.
The allocation is, after all, 63 percent higher than the roughly $11 million granted to winning applicants this past year for fisheries research — and that’s something to celebrate, right?
Well, no, not really.
That’s because the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act — the 1954 federal legislation aimed at steering 30 percent of seaport import tariff revenues into supporting and marketing the domestic fishing industry — generates more than $100 million annually from tariff revenues that exceed the $300 million mark. And even the $18 million pegged to go to the fishing industry this year represents less than 18 percent of the money that would be included if The U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA followed the letter of this federal law.
That concept, of course, was lost long ago, when Congress first began allowing the federal government to siphon off the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act funding for use within its own budget. And that continues to be the case today.
But while the $18 million will certainly provide support for a relatively few businesses, it remains a proverbial drop in the bucket that should be addressed on the congressional level — just one more example of NOAA and the Department of Commerce shortchanging a fishing industry that needs help, but in fact is only asking for the kind of support to which it’s really entitled.
Last year’s allocation — which drew 261 applicants nationally, 123 of them from the Northeast’s recognized economic disaster — funded relatively few of those.
In Gloucester, for example, only the Cape Ann Seafood Exchange earned a share of the competitive funding from a half-dozen applicants, reeling in $391,670 for its project aimed at helping develop a sustainable redfish fishery and create programs designed to market the currently under-utilized species to seafood consumers. And to make matters worse, the 2013 round of funding was delayed three months because of the partial shutdown of the federal government last October, with applicants forced to wait until this past March to learn their fate.
Look, it’s time our federal lawmakers tackled this issue — and NOAA’s budgeted revenues — head on.
That means ensuring that a far greater share of this money — dedicated to the fishing industry, not the federal government’s grotesque management of it — is headed this way.