NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — The U.S. Commerce Department said Wednesday that it’s sending experts to six Northeast ports in April to identify the financial fallout caused by federal fishing rules.
The “economic development assessment teams” will conduct two-day evaluations in New Bedford and Gloucester, Mass.; Portland, Maine; Seabrook, N.H.; Point Judith, R.I. and Montauk, N.Y.
The teams will meet with local officials and fishing industry workers about the economic effects of falling fishing revenues, caused by cuts in catch limits that aim to rebuild fish stocks.
“We know that by rebuilding stocks, we will improve economic conditions for fishermen and coastal communities, but we recognize that transition is difficult,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement. “We are committed to help identify proactive solutions during these challenging economic times.”
Earlier this month, Locke said he would send out the teams when he announced various changes aimed at helping local fishermen, including allowing more who’ve been accused of violating fishing law to have their cases reviewed for fairness.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the ranking Republican on the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, said in a Wednesday statement that she welcomed the decision to hold the study, which will include meetings with local leaders to identify economic development challenges and opportunities facing local industries and communities.
“I commend the Department of Commerce’s decision to learn firsthand the challenges faced by our fishermen and communities,” said Snowe. “I welcome any effort that will build on the progress we have made in the last year to strengthen Maine’s fishing industries.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, likened the effort to work done in the south.
“This collaborative effort proved to be effective in the Gulf Coast, and I think it will be very beneficial to our communities here in Maine,” said Michaud in a statement. “It’s critical that we promote economic development strategies for our coastal communities as efforts move forward to rebuild a more sustainable fishery.”
On March 18, Maine’s congressional delegation sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff William Daley requesting that the administration remain committed to regional groundfishery management plans in order to ensure the sustainability of Maine’s coastal fishing communities, Michaud noted.
The port visits come in the last month of a turbulent fishing year that’s seen fishermen switch to a new system in which they work together in groups to divide an allotted catch. Federal regulators say it gives them the flexibility needed to survive tough times, But the ports of New Bedford and Gloucester have sued, saying the catch allotments for many are needlessly low and are killing businesses.
New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang said industry leaders would be on hand during the coming visit by the experts to “explain exactly what the real affect has been, the human hardship has been” of the regulations he says are leading to consolidation and collapse.
Regulators have a long way to go to make it right, he said, including by increasing catch limits, improving the science the rules are based on and perhaps financial aid for fishermen.
“First steps forward are good starts, but until this entire system is overhauled and reformed … no one is going to get on the bandwagon” of having renewed faith in regulators, Lang said.