By Senator John Kerry
This month, Massachusetts marked a breakthrough: After meetings and meetings, telephone calls and letters, we secured a disaster declaration for New England's fisheries.
It took persistence, and it took teamwork.
Where do we go from here?
Fisheries and fishing communities in Massachusetts are hurting. The families relying on the more than 77,000 jobs the fishing industry supports are struggling, and we are seeing too many small boat fishermen disappear from our shores.
Now, help is on the horizon. The hard-fought disaster declaration was a necessary step on the path to financial assistance and relief for our fishermen.
The disaster declaration is a big deal and gives fishing communities reason to be encouraged, but there's more to be done. That's why I'm working with Sen. Harry Reid and members of the Northeast Congressional delegations to obtain $100 million in economic disaster assistance for those who will be directly affected by the declines in groundfish stocks.
But this kind of assistance only goes so far in addressing the problem. It's not enough to treat the symptoms, we must also get to the root of the problem. I have been working to develop a candid and constructive exchange with the Obama administration about what needs to be done to make sure our state's fishermen stay in business and prosper both in the short and long terms. Federal regulators must take into account the impact of their policies on independent fishermen and local economies, but at the same time we must continue the effort to build a sustainable fishery in Massachusetts so future generations can continue the tradition of fishing for a living.
The input of the fishermen who fish our waters daily will be critical to assessing groundfish stocks and the changes ahead. We must do the hard work to produce science that they believe in and trust, science collected with them at the table. I have asked the National Marine Fisheries Service acting Director Sam Rauch and scientists from that agency to come to Massachusetts and to sit down with representatives from our fishing and scientific community to begin a dialogue. By working to resolve the longstanding disagreements between our fishermen and federal regulators, they can work together to determine the extent of the problem and the appropriate response.
The challenges ahead, though, do not diminish this important news.
I am grateful to President Obama and acting Department of Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank for taking decisive action to provide this disaster declaration for New England fishermen and our fishing communities. They understand that fishing is a critical part of Massachusetts. It's central to our culture and to our economy. But most importantly, the tradition of fishing in Massachusetts means food on the table, gas in the car and clothes on the backs of the families that rely on the jobs it supports. We have much more work ahead now to keep it that way.