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Letter to The President

Senator John Kerry, together with Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), today sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to grant emergency economic assistance to New England fishermen.

To help mitigate the negative ramifications of new federal fishing regulations and ensure a successful transition to a sustainable groundfish fishery, the Senators are specifically requesting $100 million for a voluntary groundfish permit buyback plan and $50 million for direct economic assistance to Northeast fishermen. They're also requesting that $47 million be included in the President's fiscal year 2012 budget to provide additional funding for the science that supports all U.S. fisheries including integral data collection and monitoring programs.

"This emergency assistance means life or death for the livelihoods of our New England fishermen and their families. They've barely kept their heads above water after being slammed with new regulations this year and I'm afraid there's not much more they can take. It would be irresponsible of us to stand on the sidelines and watch this industry drown," said Sen. John Kerry.

The text of the letter is as follows:

August 5, 2010

The President

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to respectfully request your assistance to provide $100 million for a voluntary groundfish permit buyback plan and $50 million for direct economic assistance to Northeast fishermen in any FY 2011 Omnibus Appropriations bill to help mitigate the negative ramifications of new federal fishing regulations and ensure a successful transition to a sustainable groundfish fishery. We also request $47 million be included in your FY 2012 budget request to provide additional funding for the science that supports all U.S. fisheries including integral data collection and monitoring programs.

In May 2010, the Northeast multispecies fishery, more commonly referred to as the New England groundfish fishery, transitioned to a new management structure, known as sector management. This transition coincided with new mandates under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) to end overfishing by requiring fishery management plans to include allowable catch limits (ACLs). The new mandate led the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to institute catch limits for certain fish stocks within the groundfish fishery much lower than 2009 catch levels.

Recently, members of the Northeast Congressional delegation met with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Jane Lubchenco and NMFS Administrator Eric Schwaab to request an increase catch limits for certain fish stocks within the groundfish complex. In the meeting, the delegation asked the Secretary to exercise the authority granted to him under section 305(c)(1) of the MSA to promulgate an emergency regulation to increase the 2010 ACLs of certain stocks of fish referred to as "choke stocks". Without an increase for each of the choke stocks, overall fishing levels for New England fishermen will remain significantly reduced. Specifically, the delegation requested an increase in the ACLs first for pollock, yellowtail flounder, and winter flounder -- without allowing scientifically-determined overfishing levels to be exceeded -- to minimize the risk of failure of sector management and maximize job retention in the Northeast fishing industry.

We recognize and appreciate that the Secretary has taken action to increase the ACL for pollock and that NOAA has increased the ACLs for skate and spiny dogfish. However, if the Secretary fails to exercise his authority to provide the industry an increase in the ACLs for the remaining chock stocks, there is still a very strong potential that these regulatory restrictions will lead to the premature closure of this fishery, putting hundreds of fishermen out of work, and imposing significant economic hardship for fishing communities across New England. Last year, for example, under the previous management system, known as days-at-sea, our fishermen were able to catch only 27 percent of the total allowable catch, significantly affecting our coastal economy. Sector management regulations are even stricter, and when a group of fishermen catches its allotted quota of any of the 19 fish stocks in the groundfish complex, all their fishing activity will be halted for the remainder of the season.

We recognize that the best way to help our fishing communities is by saving and creating jobs, not by providing direct financial assistance, which is why our first priority is for a Secretarial action to increase the remaining catch limits. However, regardless if Secretarial action is forthcoming, it will be imperative for the Northeast fishing industry to receive emergency economic assistance to help offset significant job loss and lost revenue in the 2010 fishing season as a result of the current economic crisis, and to ease the burden of the regulatory and management changes taking place for the fishery.

Therefore, we request your support in providing $150 million for the Northeast fishing industry in FY 2011 and an additional $47 million for NOAA science programs nationwide. This funding would be used to support a groundfish permit buyback plan to reduce capacity in the fishery, provide direct economic assistance and job retraining programs for those who lose their jobs as a result of these regulations, and enhanced fisheries data collection and monitoring programs. The three major elements of our request are described below, and we urge you to give them your highest consideration.

First, given the strict ACLs and the potential for consolidation of the groundfish fleet, we respectfully request your support to provide $100 million for a voluntary groundfish permit buyback plan and a loan assistance program in FY 2011 to help mitigate the expected economic hardships within the New England groundfish fishery.

Without such assistance, too many fishermen in the region will slowly see their livelihood slip away, leading to bankruptcy, unemployment, and regional financial instability. A buyback program would provide our fishermen a humane, fair, controlled, and permanent exit from the fishery by ensuring they receive fair value for their fishing permits and their vessels. It would require that vessels purchased with these funds would be scrapped, thus ensuring that they could not return to the fishery when the economic climate improves, or transfer their effort to other fisheries. Furthermore, it would mandate the surrender of all fishing permits affiliated with the vessel being scrapped to prevent transfer of effort into other fisheries. Removing capacity will also reduce the pressure on our fish stocks and enable them to rebuild more rapidly.

Second, we request your support in providing $50 million for direct economic assistance to New England fishermen. The requested fund will be used to provide job training, low-interest loans to the states to help fishermen, crew members and the shore-side workers and businesses such as boatyards, ice houses, fishing processing facilities, and others that may also suffer economic losses from reduced catch limits.

This direct economic assistance and job training will be especially important for small fleet fishermen and their communities. Many boats have already ceased their operations as a result of low ACLs, and many more will be forced to shut down in the near future once they reach their allocated amount of choke stocks. Remaining fishing effort will consolidate in larger fishing ports where businesses can take advantage of economies of scale--a troubling development for small, traditional fishing ports.

We also request $47 million in additional funding for the science that supports all U.S. fisheries including integral data collection and monitoring programs. Rebuilding U.S. fisheries so they can achieve their full economic and biological potential will necessitate development of ACLs in which fisheries managers and the commercial and recreational fishing industries can have complete confidence. As such, funding for cooperative research, stock assessments, analyses, and the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) must be one of NMFS's highest priorities. We respectfully request that you include in your FY 2012 budget request to the Congress the following to secure increases in the following provisions to address the needs of all fisheries managers:

* Cooperative Research: An additional $10 million above the President's FY 2011 budget request for a total of $17.1 million. Increased funding for cooperative research is a top priority for the Northeast. This investment will provide much needed data and increase fishing industry confidence in the science being used to make management decisions;

* Stock Assessments: +10 million for a total of $61.7 million. Increased funding will reduce the scientific and management uncertainty that limits the ability of the Councils to set ACLs that maximize catch while rebuilding fish stocks;

* Fisheries Statistics: +$11 million for a total of $32.4 million. The 2006 amendments to the Magnuson Stevens Act required the Agency, within two years, to improve the quality and accuracy of MRIP, with a goal of achieving acceptable accuracy and utility for each fishery. That goal has not been met, and significant funding is needed to ensure timely data collection and analysis that will result in real time management decisions that both the Councils and the recreational fishing industry have sought;

* Fisheries observers: +$10 million for a total of $48.8 million. Like cooperative research, additional funding will provide improved data and increase industry confidence in the science being used to make management decisions, and;

* Survey and Monitoring Projects: +$6 million for a total of $30 million. Additional funding will improve estimates of stock size and fishing impacts--another critical aspect of setting ACLs that maximize catch while rebuilding fisheries.

While the decision to implement sector management was not unanimously supported, we remain committed to working together to help our states' fishermen adjust to this new management system in order to continue rebuilding fish stocks and secure an economically and ecologically sustainable future for our fishing communities. The New England groundfish fishery is a vital part of the economy and the history of our entire region. It is essential for this industry to receive this emergency federal assistance to survive the current economic crisis, and the regulatory and management changes taking place for the fishery.

We thank you in advance for your consideration of this request. We look forward to continuing to work with you, Secretary Locke, Dr. Lubchenco, and Mr. Schwaab to ensure a sustainable and economically viable future for the New England groundfish fishery.

Sincerely,

Senator John Kerry
Senator Olympia Snowe
Senator Susan Collins
Senator Jack Reed
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Christopher Dodd
Senator Charles Schumer


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