What to make of the plan that NMFS and state fisheries management directors from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York have unveiled to distribute some $32.8 million in federal disaster aid for New England's groundfish fishery? A couple of the region's industry advocates have offered their initial impressions.
"Some parts I like, some parts I don't," says New Hampshire fisherman Dave Goethel, a former New England Fishery Management Council member, and a 2004 NF Highliner Award winner. "But as such, I support it as a way to move forward."
That $32.8 million is part of the $75 million Congress allocated in the fiscal year 2014 budget for six federal fishery disaster declarations. The Secretary of Commerce made the New England fishery disaster declaration in anticipation of severe cuts to key groundfish species made for the 2013 fishing year.
According to a NMFS news release announcing the plan, one third of the disaster relief funds would go toward direct assistance to 336 permit holders in the region's multispecies fishery who landed at least 5,000 pounds of groundfish in any one year between 2010 and 2013. Each permit holder would receive $32,463.
Another third would be allotted for state-specific grants to address issues like providing assistance for deckhands and infrastructure or funding cooperative research programs. The remainder would be earmarked for developing either a government funded vessel buyout program or an industry-funded buyback program.
Goethel, pictured at left, says he has a problem with the proposed buyout program. "People support it until you have to figure out how to do it," he says. "Then the knives come out and everyone starts slashing at each other."
While Goethel isn't high on the buyout/buyback proposal, he says he hopes the direct assistance money will help the region's struggling groundfish harvesters.
"Something's better than nothing. Is it enough? No," Goethel says. "But it's $32,000 I didn't have yesterday." For example, he says, that money will cover a year's worth of his health insurance, which in turn will free up money to fix up his boat and fish some more.
"For some it'll help, for some, it's not nearly enough," he says.
Massachusetts would receive the largest portion of the disaster relief money, $14.5 million. However, industry advocate Jim Kendall, owner of New Bedford Seafood Consulting, says he doesn't think the plan being proposed will provide the assistance that's truly needed.
"It seemingly hasn't reached out and found those who are really deserving of some sort of assistance," he says. "It targets permit holders and boat owners, but there's relatively little concern for the deckhand. The average fisherman seems to be missing."
Disaster relief funds should help those groundfishermen most in need, whether they're boat owners or deckhands, Kendall says.
"Every one of us has been affected by this. Fishermen have been suffering for years. But you need to be looking for the guy that most needs the help and that's where you start," Kendall says. "Look at how long we've been waiting for this assistance — people have gone under in the meantime.
"Fishermen are very proud," Kendall adds, "they won't come asking for assistance until they've got no other choice."
Photo: New Hampshire fisherman Dave Goethel says federal disaster relief direct assistance funds will help some New England groundffishermen, but won't be enough for others. Dexter Van Zile photo