January 11, 2013

Mass. Legislators: Storm bill should aid fishermen

By JAY LINDSAY The Associated Press

BOSTON — Three Massachusetts congressmen pushed Friday for tens of millions of dollars in emergency aid for fishermen after the House of Representatives appeared poised to all but bypass the battered industry when allocating disaster relief funds.

U.S. Reps. Bill Keating, Ed Markey and John Tierney each filed amendments to the House's Superstorm Sandy disaster relief bill by a Friday afternoon deadline.

The bills have differences, but all ask for between $116 million and $150 million in aid for fishermen in the Northeast, Gulf Coast and Alaska.

The idea is to prompt the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee to allow at least one of the measures through for a vote on the House floor.

Keating said fishing communities badly need the funds as they face devastating cuts in catch this year because some key stocks of bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as cod and flounder, are recovering too slowly.

Keating blames a combination of natural causes and poorly conceived federal regulations for the cuts.

"You are seeing restrictions on the fish industry that are just going to take businesses, many of them family-owned businesses for generations, and just completely put them in ruin," he said.

Last year, the acting U.S. Commerce Secretary opened the door for federal aid by declaring a national fishery disaster in the Northeast, citing the unexpectedly slow rebuilding of fish stocks.

At the end of the last Congress, the Senate passed a $60 billion Superstorm Sandy relief bill that included $150 million for fishermen.

But the House Rules Committee signaled its intent to advance legislation that provides fishermen with $5 million, at most, prompting the amendments by the three lawmakers.

In his amendment, Markey says $150 million can be allocated to fishermen as an emergency appropriation, meaning it can be given without removing the same amount from other parts of the bill.

The House Rules Committee will decide Monday which of various amendments will go for a House vote.

Whatever the House passes, the Senate still has its say on any disaster relief bill.

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