By Michael Bailey
When it comes to helping the foundering fishing industry, John Kerry and Scott Brown are in the same boat.
Both Massachusetts senators today lauded the Commerce Department for a series of efforts to improve the working relationship between beleaguered fishermen and their regulators. Those measures, revealed by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, include creating a confidential email hotline for fishermen to report abusive and overly aggressive enforcement of fishing regulations and $3.35 million in research grants for New England fishermen and local researchers to boost conservation and reduce the amount of fish that are unintentionally caught and killed.
"We've sounded the alarm bells and Secretary Locke has responded," said Kerry, a Democrat and member of the fisheries subcommittee in the Senate. "This investment is a down payment on rebuilding the trust our fishermen have lost in the system -- it will give them a voice in the process, and promote cooperative research to prevent bycatch. Our fishermen have taken a pounding in this economy and we need to do everything we can to help them."
His Republican counterpart concurred:
"I'm pleased Secretary Locke is working to improve the relationship between government officials and the fishing industry,'' Brown said. "There is no question that our fishermen are hurting right now and these funds will help provide fishermen the tools and resources they need to sustain the industry.''
The two joined Democratic representatives Barney Frank of Newton, William Delahunt of Quincy, and John Tierney of Salem in applauding the Commerce Department's actions.
Locke met with local fishermen and officials in Boston today to discuss the changes and the difficulties facing an industry battered by falling stocks, rising costs, and layers of evolving regulations.
In May, the government changed how the quotas for some waning stocks of fish are counted. New rules now encourage fishermen to organize into sectors that will be allocated a share of the annual quota for each imperiled species of fish. Once a group exceeds its limit on a particular kind of fish, all members must cease all fishing.
Some fishermen complained the new rules are drastic and unworkable. They have also complained about arbitrary and onerous enforcement of regulations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a claim backed in part by a recent government report.
"The problems identified by the inspector general are simply unacceptable, and they were allowed to persist for too long," said Locke. "Those problems will end on my watch."