Congressman John Tierney deserves credit for identifying a logical funding source for steering perhaps $100 million or more toward fishermen and other businesses caught up in a recognized “economic disaster.”
At the same time, however, even Tierney would likely concede that his funding source for fisheries disaster relief shouldn’t be seen as innovative at all; it is, in fact, a case of simply putting this money, drawn from U.S. import tariff payments, to use the way it was intended by Congress and two consummate Massachusetts lawmakers nearly 60 years ago.
And in announcing a new push to free aid for New England, New York, Mississippi and Alaska fishermen — all now recognized as economic “disaster” areas by the Department of Commerce — Tierney is really righting a wrong that has been shamefully allowed to persist for decades.
Tierney’s bill would fund relief for the beleaguered fisheries through using 30 percent of the fiscal 2014 tariffs on seafood and fish products — money that could range up to $124 million, as it has in fiscal 2013. That’s the minimum percentage of allocation that is supposed to be put toward advancing and promoting “fishing industry projects” under the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act, named for sponsors and then-Massachusetts U.S. Sens. Leverett Saltonstall and John F. Kennedy.
Yet Congress has shifted the Saltonstall-Kennedy revenues into NOAA’s operating budget since 1979; all of the $124 million that should have gone to “fishing industry projects” this year has instead gone straight into the operational budget for NOAA, whose policies have created much of this economic disaster in the first place.
There is no excuse for the long delays by NOAA and the Department of Commerce in recognizing the level of “disaster” facing New England’s fisheries, with Gloucester losing more than 30 percent of its groundfishing fleet since catch share management debuted in 2010. And there is certainly no logical or justifiable explanation for any arm of the federal government to declare a state of “disaster,” yet provide absolutely no means of addressing it.
Tierney’s bill will finally provide the level of aid the fisheries need and, at this point, deserve. And it would finally bring about a proper use of the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act tariff funds that have been misused for decades. Let’s hope it gets the support it clearly deserves.