By Senator Jeanne Shaheen
New Hampshire fishermen got a piece of good news last month when the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it would delay until winter a two-month fishing closure of coastal waters in the Gulf of Maine.
The closure had been put in place to help protect harbor porpoises accidently caught by fishermen. But had the closure happened in the fall, it would have been devastating for New Hampshire fishermen, who rely on fish caught during those months to make much of their annual income. Despite this helpful reprieve, the New Hampshire fishing industry, so important to our coastal economy and to the character of our state, is still struggling to survive.
In recent years, New Hampshire fishermen have seen their incomes decline as federal regulations designed to end overfishing have limited the amount of fish they can catch. To make matters worse, these often-onerous regulations haven't helped the cod population rebound as expected. In fact, a 2011 scientific study by the National Marine Fisheries Service found so few codfish in the Gulf of Maine that the quota for the upcoming fishing year must be set extremely low - so low that it jeopardizes the survival of New Hampshire's fishing industry.
Fishing is one of the Granite State's oldest industries. It generates $106 million in economic activity and supports 5,000 full- and part-time jobs here. Yet what makes our state's fishing industry unique also makes it vulnerable. New Hampshire fishermen depend on cod more than those in any other New England state; it's more than 90 percent of their revenue. Our fishing businesses are almost all family-owned and use small day boats, fishing close to the shore. Most do not have the boats or equipment to catch other deep-sea species to compensate for the lack of cod. They do not have the profit margins of larger fishing companies, so a couple of bad years can easily put our state's fishermen out of business.
We cannot let that happen. That's why I welcomed the acting commerce secretary's recent decision to issue a disaster declaration for the Northeast fishing industry for the upcoming year, making fishermen and fishing communities eligible for federal assistance funds. I am working with other New England officials to ensure our fishermen receive much-needed economic relief that also invests in the long-term health of our state's fishery. I am also urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to improve the science behind their fish-stock assessments and to compensate fishermen for the costs incurred by the monitoring required to comply with regulations.
New Hampshire's fishing industry creates jobs in our coastal communities and provides our stores and restaurants with a local and fresh supply of fish. We must ensure the sustainability of New Hampshire's fishery and coastal economies by standing with our fishermen to preserve this historic and unique New Hampshire way of life.
Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire's senior U.S. senator.