What Disaster Aid Won't Do for Massachusetts' Fisheries
By Heather Goldstone
According to a deal announced last week, Massachusetts will receive nearly half of the federal disaster relief funds coming to the Northeast groundfish industry. Nobody thinks it will solve the fishery's problems.
State fishery directors from six northeastern states reached an agreement last week on how to distribute $32.8 million in federal disaster relief funds aimed at the struggling groundfish industry. Some of that money will go directly to fishermen impacted by recent cuts in cod catch limits, but other funds may be used to permanently streamline a fleet plagued by depleted fish stocks and facing the challenges of climate change.
While the decline in cod stocks has a history spanning decades, if not centuries, the origin of this particular disaster relief package dates back to September of 2012. With fishermen facing down drastic reductions – close to 80% cuts in some cases - in the amount of cod they’d be allowed to catch in the coming year, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank declared a fishery disaster for the Northeast’s iconic groundfish fishery that includes cod, haddock and flounder, among others.
That declaration opened the door for federal financial assistance, but it took more than a year and multiple attempts for legislators to actually appropriate any relief funds.
“This wasn’t Plan A, it wasn’t Plan B,” says John Bullard, Northeast Regional Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “I don’t know whether it was Plan F, G, or H. But the New England delegation never gave up.”