Coalition eyes plan for fed fishing aid
April 44, 2014
Coalition eyes plan for fed fishing aid
By Sean Horgan | Staff Writer
The Northeast Seafood Coalition’s spending plan for the approximately $33 million in federal disaster relief headed to coastal New England and New York would provide $11 million in immediate direct cash assistance to permit and vessel owners, with the remainder of the funds allocated for cash assistance to crews and a buyback program for fishing permits, but not vessels.
The plan — which the coalition considers an industry recommendation to NOAA, Congress and the Northeast states receiving the federal disaster funds — still remains something of a work in progress and is reflective of the intricacies involved in developing a plan palatable to all stakeholders.
Rather than a state-by-state disbursement, the NSC plan calls for a regional allocation of the funds among Northeast multispecies permit holders to alleviate any potential inconsistencies that might exist in the final disbursement plans operated by individual states.
“We’re concerned about inconsistency among the states,” said Jackie Odell, executive director of the Gloucester-based coalition. “We have many members who live in one state, but land fish in another. We’ve been looking at this from a fishery-wide and harvester perspective.”
That stance clearly places the NSC at odds with Massachusetts. The state’s Division of Marine Fisheries director, Paul J. Diodati, said the state prefers that individual states serve as the pipeline between NOAA, which currently controls the funds, and the fishing and shore-side recipients.
“Typically, the Division of Marine Fisheries would be the recipient of the funds and we certainly would work hand-in-hand with the governor’s office,” Diodati said. “The Commonwealth and Gov. (Deval) Patrick are ready to make those tough decisions with the stakeholders helping us.”
Diodati and the fisheries directors from the other eligible states have been meeting regularly with NOAA to hash out a plan. NOAA officials have met with members of Congress and industry groups, as well.
“We had a five-hour meeting (Wednesday) with the state fishery directors, which is probably the sixth or seventh time we’ve met with them,” NOAA Regional Administrator John K. Bullard said Thursday. “No matter the constituency, they all have very different ideas, all of which are legitimate points of view that deserve consideration.”
Bullard said the groups are “making progress” toward a consensus, but could offer neither a specific timeline for the completion of a final plan nor a sense of its ultimate complexion.
“It’s a nuanced approach,” Bullard said. “We’re balancing the urgency of the emergency with the need to get it right, making sure we squeeze the maximum impact out of every dollar.”
The path to a final plan, he said, has been paved with negotiation, collaboration and conciliation.
As always, NOAA, which never tips its pitches, is the wild card.
It controls the funds and thus continues to wield the most influence. But Bullard said he believes the final product will be one of consensus among regulators and stakeholders.
“We have been told by our congressional delegations that the industry recommendation would heavily influence the final formula (for disbursement),” Odell said. “We want to be responsible to the requirements and reach out to other industry organizations who represent people in the groundfish industry and engage them in a discussion for the best use of the money.”
That is easier said than done. Developing industry consensus already has proven to be difficult.
The NSC plan, developed in conjunction with the Associated Fisheries of Maine, the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, already has seen one party jump ship.
The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance has withdrawn its support of the plan. Tom Dempsey, policy director for the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, said his membership ultimately broke ranks with NSC and the two Maine fishing groups over two issues: the permit buyback and the amount of disaster relief funds dedicated to crew members.
“Our members didn’t believe the $20 million to buy back permits addressed all their concerns or provide enough value,” Dempsey said. “Also, two-thirds or three-quarters of the folks impacted by this crisis are crew members and there are strong feelings the crews should be taken care of.”
Dempsey said the norm among the alliance’s membership is for crews to make up to 20 percent of the boat’s profits and his group believes the amount of direct disaster relief to the crews should be higher than the $2 million contained in the NSC plan.
Assembling a consensus even within the ranks of its 300 members has presented the NSC with its own set of challenges, prompting the organization to twice query its members for their feedback.
The members initially were asked to respond by March 17 whether they approved or disapproved of the plan, with an additional request to provide a reason if it was the latter.
Odell said about 56 percent of the coalition responded, with 66 percent stating they were in favor of the plan and 24 percent opposed.
“Our board was concerned that there seemed to be pockets where the response rate was not very good or there was more opposition,” Odell said.
Odell said NSC’s members based in Gloucester and Boston showed the deepest support for the plan, with more shallow support from Massachusetts’ South Shore, as well as those in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
NSC sent its second query, asking for more feedback from its members. It hopes to have all those responses by the end of this week, Odell said. That could lead to a revision of its plan, she said.
In the interim, fishermen and shore-side businesses wait for word of a final plan for the disbursement of the federal fishing disaster aid, with two questions foremost in their minds: when and how much?