Lawmakers ask U.S. help for New England fishermen Collapse of cod stocks harms individuals, towns

December 20, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON -- A group of Democratic Massachusetts lawmakers has asked the federal government for $100 million to help thousands of fishermen threatened by the collapse of cod stocks in the Gulf of Maine.

In a letter sent last week, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and four other members of Congress urged the administration to include in the federal budget for 2000 an emergency relief package for fishermen and cities that rely on the cod stocks economically.

Regulators voted last week to bar fishing in several spawning grounds off the coast of New England in an effort to stop the collapse of the cod supplies. Scientists announced this month that cod stocks in the Gulf of Maine, already known to be depleted, had dropped to a 30-year low.

As many as 2,500 fishermen, many of them small-boat owners who cannot travel far offshore to the open fishing grounds, will be affected by the closures.

Cities such as Gloucester, Mass., which has long depended on fishing, have already been hit hard by the industry decline and government restrictions in recent years to protect fishing stocks.

As dismayed as they are by the new restrictions, fishermen are bracing for more regulation next year, which might include further limiting fishing trips or closures beyond the spawning period.

The lawmakers ask in the letter that the aid go toward health care for fishermen and their families, boat buybacks, career counseling for those who must stop fishing and projects to diversify the economy.

"We've got a lot of fishing people who are suffering a significant economic setback, not unlike farmers in some parts of the country," said Sen. John Kerry, one of the signers of the letter. "There we've made an effort to soften the blow. Now we have to begin to understand our responsibilities to these communities."

Reps. Barney Frank, William D. Delahunt and John F. Tierney also signed the letter to the budget office director, Jack Lew.

The U.S. government has given $80 million to the New England fishing industry since 1994, including $25 million for boat buybacks.

"At that time the clear message was, 'This is the last time,' " said Peter Shelley, director of the Marine Resources Project at the Conservation Law Foundation.

"I'm fairly skeptical that a majority of Congress knows enough PTC about the pain that a fishing closure can bring to want to help in this kind of situation. I hope I'm wrong."

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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