April 01, 2013

Patriot Ledger: In Washington, a new push to aid New England fishermen

WASHINGTON - Less than three months after an effort to provide a pool of aid to distressed fisheries across the nation died at the end of the last Congress, efforts to secure disaster relief funding for New England fishermen are heating up on Capitol Hill.

Just before Congress left last weekend for a two-week Easter/Passover recess, the Senate passed a bipartisan amendment - sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska - calling for money in the fiscal 2014 budget to be set aside for aid for fisheries and fishing communities in New England as well as Alaska and the Gulf Coast.

The Warren-Murkowski amendment does not specify a dollar amount, and is, in effect, a nonbinding provision attached to the Senate's version of the budget plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. But, according to congressional sources, it foreshadows an intensified effort by Warren to work with senators from both parties to secure $150 million in funding for distressed fisheries across the country as the annual congressional appropriations process gets under way.

These efforts follow the New England Fishery Management Council vote in late January to reduce catch limits for cod by 77 percent in the Gulf of Maine and by 61 percent on Georges Bank, an area just off Cape Cod, compared to last year's catch limits. The new limits take effect in May. Anticipating this sharp reduction in catch limits, the Commerce Department last fall issued a disaster declaration for the New England fishery, opening the way for congressional disaster aid.

The $150 million sought by Warren for fishery aid was included in the Senate's Hurricane Sandy relief bill last December. But it died when the House failed to act on the Senate legislation prior to the adjournment of the last Congress in January.

Read the full article here.