An amendment submitted by Congressman John Tierney to give commercial fishermen access to a U.S. Agriculture emergency disaster loan program had died in the U.S. House, though Tierney hopes it may still find sufficient support through a House-Senate reconciliation.
Tierney's amendment, tacked onto the proposed Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act -- better known as the FARRM Bill -- was aimed at making commercial fishermen eligible for the U.S Department of Agriculture's Emergency Disaster Loan program, but went down on a vote of 211-215.
"Despite convincing 23 Republicans to vote in support of my amendment, we ran up against the real consequences of the Ryan Republican budget and sequestration," said Tierney, whose district includes Gloucester and all of Cape Ann. "With deep cuts to federal programs being implemented, many Republicans are refusing to both restore funding for them and give our struggling commercial fishermen the same opportunity to apply for emergency disaster loans as farmers and ranchers.
"Fortunately, a similar amendment, introduced by Senator Cowan, was included in the Senate's version of the farm bill, and with this close vote in the House, I am hopeful it will be retained in the House and Senate conference report," Tierney said.
Two Cowan amendments that cleared overall votes in the Senate last week called for both granting fishermen eligibility for the USDA loan program, and for funding a new fisheries insurance study.
Tierney, who argued for the emergency loan program on the House floor Wednesday night, noted that the amendment would have amended the USDA's Emergency Disaster Loan program to allow commercial fishermen to apply. The amendment would not have prioritized fishermen over farmers or ranchers or anyone else currently eligible for the USDA's program; it only sought to give fishermen a fair shot at obtaining an emergency loan.
"The defeat of this small but important amendment also shows how difficult it will be to make progress on providing urgently needed financial assistance for the fishing industry and responsibly reforming the Magnuson-Stevens Act," Tierney added. "Yet my like-minded colleagues from both parties and I will not be deterred. Even in the face of significant opposition by many House Republicans, we will keep fighting for our fishermen and their families."
The push for different types of aid for the fishing industry comes in the face of cuts of up to 78 percent in landing limits for the fishing year that began May 1, and after the Department of Commerce last September recognized the Northeast groundfishery as an "economic disaster," yet has failed to provide any financial assistance to tackle the problem.
Tierney also has a bill pending that would steer federal tariff money on seafood imports back to the fishing industry for research and other projects in accordance with the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act. Over the years, the so-called "S-K" money designed to be pumped into supporting and promoting the fishing industry has instead been funneled into the operating budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.