To some, the special election victory by Congressman Ed Markey last week leaves Massachusetts fishermen without a definitive voice in the U.S. Senate.
Just 31/2 years removed from the passing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy — a truly passionate voice for the state’s and the nation’s fishermen — Elizabeth Warren’s victory over forceful fisheries advocate Scott Brown and now Markey’s triumph and filling of the seat held by new Secretary of State John Kerry have created a Senate delegation in which fisheries may not have the priority they have had in the past. And these changes are coming at a time when fishermen and fishing communities need that type of advocacy the most.
But while Markey has taken stands in the past against adding new flexibility to the Magnuson-Stevens Act — reforms fishermen badly need — and while he is on record in support of President Obama’s “ocean zoning” initiative that would likely shut down even more fishing grounds, he has pushed in support of extending federal disaster aid for the recognized “economic disaster” that is the Northeast groundfishery.
And if he — and Warren, for that matter — want to build credibility among the fishing industry leaders and, really, among working-class families throughout New England and beyond who identify with fishermen facing a virtual shutdown at the hands of their own government, they will make securing emergency disaster aid one of their top priorities in the weeks and months ahead.
The fact that this still had not been addressed in Congress is an outrage in the first place.
Congressional leaders made the right call by pulling fisheries aid out of a disaster aid appropriation for the victims of Superstorm Sandy in January; let’s face it, that was a true human and economic disaster that merited a full federal emergency response.
But there is no reason for the Department of Commerce or its underling National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration not to follow up and either allocate or seek an appropriation for the fisheries disaster that, lest we forget, their shaky faux science, excessive regulations and flawed fishery management system have essentially caused.
The best approach to fisheries aid remains the one being pursued by Congressman John Tierney, who is pushing to force NOAA to — surprise — actually abide by the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, which calls for steering a percentage of the nation’s seafood import tariff revenues into aiding and promoting the fishing industry, rather than funneling it into NOAA’s operations budget, where it’s shamefully been allowed to go for years.
And both Markey and Warren need to recognize that, beyond any aid, fishermen and fishing communities like Gloucester truly need the type of Magnuson adherence that requires another long-ignored standard — consideration of the economic impact on fishing communities when NOAA sets its regulations and landing limits.
But in the short term, Gloucester’s boats — many of which have already used most or all of their groundfish stock quotas for the fishing year that just began May 1 — desperately need aid that will at least ease the pressure on them to sell their vessels and even their homes to cover their bills.
One of the fishing industry’s most ardent activists, Gloucester-based state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, said prior to the election that, despite some of his stated positions, Markey was the Senate special election candidate who could get things done for Massachusetts fishermen and the industry’s embattled other waterfront businesses, because his 37 years in the U.S. House give him established clout with decision-makers who can deliver fishermen the support they need.
And for his part, Markey acknowledges that “we need an immediate, all-hands-on-deck effort to give fishermen the respect they deserve now.”
Renewing and stepping up the push for fisheries disaster aid will be a good way for him to show he’s ready to back those words with action.
We’ll be watching — and, we hope, not waiting much longer — for a meaningful fisheries aid package that’s long overdue.