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Gloucester Times - Righting a Wrong for our Fisheries

Op-Ed

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By Senator John Kerry

In Massachusetts, commercial fishing supports more than 77,000 jobs.

Recreational fishing is also an important part of our maritime economy and our local research institutions are world-renowned.

However, today our fishermen continue to face economic peril and they are deeply frustrated by science and research they don't trust and federal regulators in whom they lost faith when abuses were exposed by an investigation Ted Kennedy and I insisted upon.

We've got to put the broken pieces back together and restore both trust in Washington and economic security for this industry and the brave fishermen who get up every day and go out on those boats to make a living for their families.

In short, we need a new path in Washington.

It starts by remaking the scientific research process and transforming it into something that does a much better job of including our fishermen in the data collection that's the foundation of rules and regulations that can determine their future.

We can take an important first step in changing the relationship between our fishermen and federal regulators by passing the Fisheries Investment and Regulatory Relief Act which I am introducing in the Commerce Committee with Senator Snowe, a Republican Senator from Maine and my longtime colleague on the Committee. In the House, Congressmen Barney Frank and Frank Guinta will be introducing similar legislation.

The cornerstone of this bill is returning the use of Saltonstall-Kennedy funds to our fishermen, as was the original intent of its creators. In 1954, Leverett Saltonstall and John F. Kennedy, Democratic and Republican Senators from Massachusetts, created the Saltonstall-Kennedy fund for fisheries research and development.

Under their law, 30 percent of the duties on imported fish products to be transferred to a grant program to benefit the U.S. fishing industry. It was meant to be a permanent appropriation to promote science, research, and the development of American fisheries.

But over years of tight budgets, the use of these funds has gotten off track: to fund other priorities, the money has been going to places other than it was originally intended.

In 2010, the estimated total duties collected on imports of fishery products were $376.6 million. Thirty percent of that total is approximately $113 million that should be used to improve science and help our fisheries. Unfortunately last year, only $8.4 million of that $113 million was used by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for grants for fisheries research and development projects. The remaining funds were used by NOAA for their operations.

This simply can't continue, especially given the current situation facing our fisheries. Our bill will restore the investment to help the fishermen and communities for whom Sens. Saltonstall and Kennedy originally intended it to protect.

The New England fishing industry has been facing a serious crisis due to declining fish stocks and increasing federal regulations. The transition to a new management plan has increased mistrust between fishermen and the federal government to the highest it has ever been during my 27 years in the Senate.

The Gulf of Maine cod crisis we are currently facing is emblematic of this distrust. Within three years of each other, two radically different stock assessments were released -- the first assessment showed a species on the rise while the most recent survey shows a dramatic decline. Many of our fishermen don't believe in the new numbers. Today, Washington says that there isn't enough money to ensure local stakeholders are engaged and that the most accurate technologies are being used. That's not true; it's just a question of choices and priorities. My bill would provide local stakeholders with funding to help develop the accurate and credible science and stakeholder participation that we need.

By giving stakeholders the ability to determine how Saltonstall-Kennedy funds get spent, this bill would let New England decide what the unmet priorities in our fisheries research are and give them the funds necessary to do something about them.

It could pay for things like side by side trawl surveys, done in cooperation with NOAA and our fishermen, so that we can find out if there are fish that are being missed by NOAA vessels and make sure that data gets into the assessments. It would allow for money to go into figuring out if there are more advanced tools, like long-range sonar and other fish imaging capabilities, which could do a better job at determining how many fish are in the sea. And by giving preference to public-private partnerships, it can help rebuild trust between fishermen and federal regulators.

Most importantly, it helps give our local fishing communities a bigger role in making these decisions.

We know that every region has specific priorities that they'd like to see funded. Under this bill, money from the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act would be used to implement regional fishery investment plans, which would be developed by the Regional Fishery Management Councils, released in the Federal Register for public comment, and approved by the Secretary of Commerce. The priorities would include everything from more frequent stock assessments, better recreational data, to crucial habitat restoration.

This legislation will help give our fishermen a better chance to develop a clear, open dialogue with federal regulators to determine what we're up against and what we can do to fix it.

It will help preserve our fishermen's livelihoods, their families' economic security and help ensure our fishing industry can survive for future generations. And most importantly, at a time of bitter division, it will restore trust.


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