September 13, 2012

Feds declare New England groundfish industry a 'disaster'

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Fishing boats are moored at the Commercial Fishing Pier in Portsmouth, N.H., last winter. The government has declared New England's groundfish industry a 'disaster' clearing the way for financial assistance.

AP

As a result, federal regulators reduced the quota for 2012 and are expected to slash the catch limits further in 2013 -- by as much as 70 percent from 2012 levels.

A letter from LePage and other governors said the disaster relief money would be "used to provide both immediate economic relief to our region's struggling groundfish industry and to make targeted investments that will allow the fleet to survive and become more sustainable in the years ahead."

Although funding is not guaranteed, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said Thursday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has committed to include $100 million for fishermen and fishing communities in emergency assistance legislation. That bill will be debated during the lame-duck session after the election Nov. 6, Kerry said Thursday.

Mendelson said discussions continue about how to use any emergency funding appropriated by Congress.

Options include funding additional research on why groundfish are disappearing, developing new gear to better target specific species, or offsetting other costs, such as the amount the industry pays for at-sea catch monitors.

Another option is direct payments to fishermen or "buy-outs" of permit holders.

Mendelson said disaster relief for fishermen isn't the same as disaster relief for farmers.

"There have been direct payments (to fishermen) in the past, but there is no insurance like crop insurance," Mendelson said.

Casamassa said he and other fishermen hope that money will be used to improve the research and science that guides catch limits.

"Nobody wants a handout. Everyone wants to fish," he said in a conference call with reporters organized by the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association and the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association. "There is a problem in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and we need to figure it out and to fix it."

Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

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