, Salem, MA


August 7, 2013

Our view: Tiny steps toward solving a big problem

Last week’s announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that it would steer up to $10 million of seafood import tariff money into a fund designed to upgrade fishing fleets and provide support so fishing communities can better address their futures was hailed as a good first step toward aiding the industry.

And perhaps that’s what it will be: a very, very tiny baby step that will do some good over time.

But as Gloucester fisherman Joe DiMaio put it, “There is no time.” And when it comes to New England fishermen’s true needs, there remains no money either.

So, to hear U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others proclaiming this NOAA gesture “an excellent chance for our ports” is disappointing.

NOAA may build some good PR through trivial acknowledgements such as this and gestures like the opening of previously closed areas that the smaller local boats can’t reach and that big boats can’t afford because of monitoring costs. But our federal government continues to provide none of the disaster aid that fishermen need and deserve. And let no one forget that as more and more fishermen put their boats and even houses on the block while staving off creditors, this is an “economic disaster” to which NOAA has contributed.

The potential $10 million being allocated from tariffs through the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act may seem significant, until one considers that the law — ignored for decades while NOAA has used tariff dollars to sustain its operations budget — calls for 30 percent of the import money to go toward domestic fisheries, or roughly $130 million last year alone.

And while the idea of NOAA hiring idle fishing boats to undertake cooperative stock assessments with fishermen on board would be a step long overdue, the idea of dividing the $10 million into grants of between $30,000 and $250,000 means that money will dry up fast. Indeed, NOAA would provide more help with a buyout program for boats forced out of the water — and $250,000 wouldn’t even cover most fishermen’s permits.

Our state and federal lawmakers have to sit up and recognize this absolutely token concession by this still-unaccountable agency for what it is. And they must recognize it’s time to deliver the level of disaster aid that’s needed, before there is no longer a working commercial fishing waterfront to even transition to.

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