WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator John Kerry today called for emergency federal aid and increased catch limits to help stave off the economic hardships currently facing Massachusetts’ fishing industry.
At a hearing in Washington held by the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, Kerry argued that federal management and oversight must do more to address the economic hit fishermen have taken from low catch limits and out-of-whack allocations schemes.
“I helped rewrite Magnuson-Stevens years ago, and believed back then what I still believe today – that the future health of our fishing industry depends on the health of strong, sustainable fisheries,” said Sen. Kerry. “But let me be perfectly frank. The situation for our fisherman and local businesses is increasingly dire; I’m more and more convinced that the federal management of our fisheries has driven this industry to the brink. The Department of Commerce should immediately review Governor Deval Patrick’s request for emergency aid. Catch limits must be increased for the remainder of this season, and additional cases of fraud and abuse must be allowed to be reviewed. Finally, we must increase the frequency of stock assessments to ensure that our fishermen are protected and New England’s fishing industry can continue to thrive for generations to come.”
Kerry, a senior member of the Commerce Committee, also submitted a full statement for the Congressional Record. The full text is below:
Chairman Begich, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the increasingly difficult situation facing fishermen in Massachusetts.
During my tenure on the Senate Commerce Committee, I helped to rewrite the Magnuson-Stevens Act and remain committed to the goal of building sustainable fisheries. However, I am concerned about the negative consequences that have resulted from the implementation sector based management under Amendment 16 coupled with low Allowable Catch Limits (ACLs) under Framework 44 in Massachusetts.
In recent trip to Massachusetts I met with our fishermen, local business leaders, Mayors, state representatives and officials from Governor Patrick’s administration. Each of these disparate groups asked me to change direction of fisheries management in Massachusetts.
I have reviewed information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the current state of the Northeast Groundfish Fishery, but I am concerned that the information does not accurately reflect the situation facing the majority of fishermen in Massachusetts. Revenues for the entire fishery may be increasing under sectors. However, net revenues have been drastically reduced for much of the fleet as the costs of leasing quota have become the highest percentage of fishing expenses than any expense realized in the past. There has also been a distinct shift of revenues from the bottom 90 percent of the fleet to the top 10 percent of the fleet mainly due to an allocation schematic that left many of the fishermen with woefully small allocations making them unable to fish or afford to lease quota that would enable them to fish. Many of the fishermen are struggling just to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families.
Specifically, during my time in New Bedford it was clear that there was a deep sense of disappointment that the Department of Commerce has rejected the Governor’s request for direct economic relief that was supported by the Congressional delegation. This denial is unacceptable, and I strongly urge NMFS, NOAA, and the Department of Commerce to continue to work with the Massachusetts delegation and the Governor to provide direct economic aid to the fishing community. What I find particularly frustrating is the continued lack of transparency and sharing of data (assuming it exists) that details individual (boat and permit) revenue, quota transfer, and leasing information which is critical to answer consolidation and excessive share questions and fully understand how the industry is changing.
Second, they believe that ACLs should be increased for the remainder of the fishing season consistent with the Governor’s report. As I argued prior to the start of the Fishing Year 2010, catch limits need to be increased for the choke stocks in order to minimize the risk of failure of the sector management while still preventing overfishing from occurring. Low ACLs coupled with the new management plan with is one of the main reasons that there has been a backlash against catch shares in Massachusetts. While the Governor’s Report did not provide new scientific data, because they do not possess new scientific data, it presented a well-reasoned analysis of how catch limits can be increased within both sustainable and legal bounds. This increase would greatly aid many fishermen in the last two months of this fishing year.
Third, there is continued distrust of the federal agencies as a result of the past abuses highlighted in the Inspector General’s reports. More must be done to restore credibility. Specifically, a window should be opened for additional fishermen who did not initially submit their cases to the Inspector General for fear of retaliation to bring their cases to the Special Master, and the penalties associated with the cases currently being reviewed by the Special Master be stayed until the review is complete.
Finally, there is a lack of confidence in the science that informs ACLs and fisheries management. This is an issue fishermen, scientists, and decision makers have wrestled with for years. We must continue work to increase the frequency of stock assessments; more quickly incorporate the findings of cooperative research, and reduce the amount of scientific uncertainty in our management decisions.
Taken together, these actions will help reduce the tensions between our fishermen and the federal government. It will help our fishermen join in the process to develop a healthy, profitable and sustainable fishery that we envisioned in the 2006 Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization.