Standard-Times Op-Ed: Tide begins turning fishermen's way
For the past two years, I have made many visits to Massachusetts fishing communities in New Bedford, Gloucester and the South Shore to hear about the challenges facing the industry. I've listened to boat owners and fishermen who face devastating catch allocation cuts, and I've spoken with net makers and icemen whose businesses depend on a strong fishing fleet to make ends meet. The message I've heard has been clear: The federal government needs to act quickly to provide disaster assistance for our fishermen, and we need long-term policy changes and better science to preserve this critical lifeline that has been part of the commonwealth's economy and traditions for generations.
It is vitally important we support our fishermen in these difficult times, and I'm committed to being a strong advocate in Washington for Massachusetts' fishing communities.
Unfortunately, last year Republicans in the House blocked the fishing money included by the Senate in the Sandy relief bill. A disaster is a disaster, and the federal government should be stepping up to help our hardworking fishing families the same way they do following a storm or during a drought. For the past several months, I've been working with my colleagues to secure much-needed disaster assistance to fund the national fisheries disasters declared last fall.
In March, the Senate passed a bipartisan budget amendment I introduced with Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, allowing appropriations to be allocated to provide disaster assistance to struggling fishermen. I also sent a letter to President Obama urging immediate action to provide relief for the industry.
Now the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved disaster aid and assistance programs to help the fishing industry in Massachusetts. The bill also requires that 10 percent of the revenues generated by the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act be used for competitive grants toward community-based plans to help coastal fishing communities and the fishing industry retool and modernize their fleets, shore services, and port facilities to improve innovation and economic sustainability.
These are important steps toward making sure our fishing communities get the aid they need. In the short term, disaster assistance will help our fishermen stay in business and help sustain our shore-side businesses. And by dramatically expanding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's activities in chartering commercial fishing vessels for surveys and research, this bill will improve the quantity and quality of fishery data that is used for stock assessments and finally start to incorporate fishermen's expertise into the scientific collection process.
The fishing industry is facing some tough times right now, but if we can get our fishermen the disaster aid they need and work to ensure there is better science and support from the government, we can help our fishermen get through this difficult period and continue to thrive. The fishing industry has faced difficult times before and has always rebounded, and I am confident that if we pull together, it can do so again.
Fishing is more than just a job or an industry - it's part of who we are. We must do everything we can to save this way of life. I will continue reaching out and listening to fishing communities across the commonwealth, and I am committed to fighting on behalf of our fishermen in the U.S. Senate.
By: Senator Elizabeth Warren