There was a lot of good news last week regarding help for the New England fishery.
First came the word that $32.8 million of the $75 million in federal economic disaster aid targeted for America’s embattled fishermen and fishing communities is bound for New England.
While such federal aid generally comes with a ridiculous requirement of a 25 percent match from receiving states, the Department of Commerce has waived that mandate in this case. That, as NOAA regional director John Bullard noted, should mean more money in direct federal aid to the fishermen.
But you should excuse fishermen and even federal and state lawmakers if all this good news didn’t exactly touch off celebrations along the docks and in the halls of government, where people like Congressman John Tierney called it simply “the next critical step in the process.”
It’s clear that this money is still weeks and, likely, months from reaching them. There are other hurdles to clear, such as how much of the New England money will be steered through the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and how much of the funding will go, as it should, directly to the fishermen and other waterfront businesses affected by the federally recognized disaster.
The clock remains ticking on the groundfishing industry as May 1, the start of a new fishing year, draws near. And let’s not forget that the dire cuts in landing limits that have only exacerbated the economic disaster that prompted this aid are due to remain in place for another year, as well.
Unless that changes — and unless our federal lawmakers press hard for changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and NOAA’s current limits decree — no amount of one-time federal aid will be enough to address the industry’s true concerns.
Yes, this aid is a big step. But it’s now up to state and federal officials to accelerate the delivery of that aid into the hands that need it most. Perhaps then, there be some cause for a bit of celebration — or more likely, a hefty sigh of relief.