Disaster Declaration Urged for Massachusetts Groundfish Fleet

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is asking for a federal declaration that the state's groundfishing fleet is suffering an economic disaster because of federal fishing restrictions. Patrick submitted documents compiled by the state's Division of Marine Fisheries to the U.S. Commerce Department on April 9, and his state's senior senator, Ted Kennedy, yesterday called for the declaration to be granted. Patrick's office said the documents show regional economic losses of $22 million.

"Everyone agrees that the stocks of groundfish in the waters off the coast of Massachusetts need to be replenished," Patrick said. "Everyone also agrees that the fishing industry needs to remain part of the life of the Commonwealth. The revenue declines experienced by fishing communities represent a true economic disaster."

Declaration of a "fisheries resource disaster" from regulatory restriction is a first step toward getting emergency relief from the federal government. The governor had sent an earlier letter Feb. 21 asking Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to take the request under advisement while Patrick documented the extent of harm to the fleet, related industries, and communities that depend on them. The report says emergency interim action taken by the federal government in May 2006 and November 2006 slashed the number of allowable days at sea for the Massachusetts groundfish fleet, causing revenues to fall from $44.6 million in 2005 to $36.5 million in 2006. Kennedy said the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation supports declaring a fisheries resource disaster. "Massachusetts fishermen need immediate relief to survive new restrictions and to avoid a total collapse of the groundfish industry. The state has made a compelling case to support a fishery disaster declaration, and I urge the Department of Commerce to provide the declaration as quickly as possible so that immediate steps can be taken to remedy the economic losses," the senator's news release says.

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