It has been a while since the Secretary of Commerce declared the New England groundfishery a “disaster.” There is only one reason that such a declaration has any value to the fishermen who already know that big trouble is looming on the horizon and that is federal funding. When the pols recognize that there is a real problem, they do what they do best, throw a bunch of someone else’s money at it and hope that it goes away. Since the disaster declaration, the groundfish industry has been waiting for the financial fulfillment. So far, it has not come.
I have written about this before, but I am not a fan of simply throwing money at the problem. That is not a long-term solution. The groundfish industry, particularly in the commercial sector, will never be as large as it once was. The modern vessels are far more efficient and far fewer will be able to take the annual catch limit even if the stocks eventually rebuild. What is needed are programs to help participants exit the fishery without using bankruptcy as a stepping stone. Training and education are a must. There also needs to be low-cost funding to help with vessel upgrade and replacement. The average vessel age is in the mid 30 year area and the normal life expectancy is about 25. Low cost financing programs would be helpful and those should be made available to both recreational party/charter operators and commercial users. Just throwing some short-term tide’em over funds will not solve much.
So, the pols in New England have been pleading with the feds in DC to put some money where their mouths are. So far, nothing has been done, although the funding is still in at least one federal funding proposal. So with all this gnashing of teeth over getting this done, Secretary of State Kerry made an announcement during a trip to Vietnam that the federal government would “ pledge $17 million to a program that will help the region’s rice producers, shrimp and crab farmers, and fisherman adapt to potential changes caused by higher sea levels that bring salt water into the delicate ecosystem.”
Now, I fully realize that Secretary Kerry is giving away money that comes from another “magic pot.” But ultimately all of us are funding that pot and I’d like to see a little of the America first philosophy. Even if the funding did not go directly to the users of the resource, it could certainly be used to enhance the very strained research budgets of the regional science centers managed by NOAA Fisheries.
Again, I understand the need for foreign aid in certain situations. However, in my opinion this is not one of them. I have a lot more concern about the fisheries in New England than I do Vietnam. We need to do a lot to support fisheries management and research within our own waters and giving money to Vietnam fishermen will not help us. We do not need to support fisheries and fishing activities in other countries. Let’s do it here.