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Nation/World

January 16, 2014

Fishing aid gets landslide approval

The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the $1 trillion Appropriations Bill containing $75 million in disaster aid to fishermen and fishing communities yesterday afternoon, sending the measure along to the Senate, where it is expected to pass in a vote that could come as soon as today.

The landslide passage in the House, by a vote of 359-67, was regarded as the most prominent hurdle remaining in the path of the bill that provides the first tangible instance of direct federal financial assistance to fishermen and their communities since the Department of Commerce’s 2012 declaration of a disaster in the Northeast groundfish fishery.

The bill’s successful journey through the House appropriation process also represented an immense victory for the Massachusetts House delegation, including Rep. John Tierney.

Starting literally from scratch, the Massachusetts delegation helped convince House appropriators to come up with $75 million — half of the initial $150 million Senate appropriation — to aid fishermen in the nation’s fisheries.

The bill is expected to pass in the Senate, where the initial appropriation of $150 million had strong support, including that of Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

If also approved by Senate lawmakers, the bill will provide landmark assistance to fishermen in Gloucester and elsewhere whose lives have been turned upside down by the fishery disaster and by the response of federal regulators, which included closing traditional fishing areas and instituting extraordinarily deep cuts in catch quotas for cod, haddock and other groundfish.

It remains to be determined how the $75 million will be allocated to eligible fishermen and fishing businesses, though the initial appropriation is expected to flow from the Commerce Department to individual states and from there into the fishing communities.

In Massachusetts, the state Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF) is expected to play a central role in the portioning of the funds.

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