Monday night’s meeting at the Division of Marine Fisheries offices in Gloucester was well attended by fishermen and industry advocates. As noted in an earlier post, the purpose of this meeting was to discuss the prioritization for a recently approved federal aid package of $75 million that will be distributed among states where fisheries disasters have been declared. Division of Marine fisheries director Paul Diodati chaired the meeting, with State Senator Bruce Tarr and State Rep Margaret Ann Farante also in attendance. Commissioner Mary Griffin of the MA Dept. of Fish and Game was also at the meeting.
Mr. Diodati started by explaining the purpose of the meeting, explaining that although the final touches have not been applied to this aid package, the state is seeking feedback on how the funds could be used most effectively to mitigate the impacts of the fisheries crisis bearing down on the local groundfish fleet. He discussed an outline of approved uses that have been drawn up by the state and asked those in attendance to provide feedback on these proposed uses. This proposed outline was presented to the group as follows:
The Division of Marine Fisheries shall develop a plan to protect, preserve, and strengthen the commonwealth’s commercial domestic harvesting capacity of groundfish in response to the crisis occurring from federal allowable catch reductions.
In development of such plan, the Division shall consider strategies including, but not limited to:
- direct assistance to commercial fishing vessel owners and crews.
- the purchase, lease and banking of commercial groundfish permits and catch quota, loans, guarantees and subsidies
- the lease of commercial fishing vessels for research and other academic purposes, and
- other mechanisms to prevent the extinction or out-migration of commercial groundfish capacity, and allowable catch of groundfish from the commonwealth
The level of funding that MA will receive as part of this aid package is still unclear. Mr. Diodati noted that at least 6 other states have declared fishing disasters and are therefore set to receive a piece of this $75 million.
Although little was said on the subject, the overwhelming consensus in the room is that the real issue lies with changing the regulations and management system currently governing our local fishermen. Until these regulations are changed, there is little hope of overcoming the current crisis facing our local fleet. The mismanagement of the fishery in past decades with drastically fluctuating fishing quotas and inconsistent policies have made it impossible to make a living in this time honored way of life.
Although there were some differences of opinion exchanged, the overwhelming sentiment expressed by the group regarding these funds was that whatever is made available should be distributed directly to fishermen and the immediate shore-side infrastructure that supports the fleet in order to pay down debts that have been incurred as a result of the current crisis.
A “no list”- or programs and projects that should not be funded under this aid package- was also discussed. Too often, aid packages have been diluted by research or side projects that may be important but do not immediately address the crisis at hand. Many in the audience stressed that this funding should be given only to fishermen and shore-side infrastructure while research and other initiatives should be funded from other sources.
Some of the thoughts shared by fishermen included:
“Everyone in this room is on the verge of bankruptcy”
“We just want to go fishing. We want to be fishermen again.”
Everyone agreed that this funding, although much needed, would do little to address the magnitude of the crisis faced by our local fishermen. Most- if not all- are stuck tied to the docks and have been forced to put up all they have- including their own homes- to keep from going completely bankrupt. Entire lifetimes of making a livelihood by this honorable way of life have left too many with nothing to show for it. Senator Bruce Tarr admitted that this funding “won’t guarantee anything” for those still struggling to stay in business.
Moving forward, we will continue to cover this fisheries crisis and urge you all to do the same. If this historic way of life is in fact lost, we will never recover the infrastructure and culture that has come to define an integral part of New England. If we continue on this current path, the total loss of the New England fishery could be realized in the near future.