New England is still firmly in winter's grasp with no signs of spring, except the luxury of returning home from work and school in waning daylight — for nine-to-fivers, that is. Most fishermen still start their day before sunup and return to dock well after dark. That is, if they're still fishing.
This week, the beleaguered Northeast groundfish industry saw a few glimpses of light. Nothing that can magically turn this ship around, but every little bit helps. After all, we're not looking for magic, just for folks to be able to make a living.
First, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced that NOAA expects to cover the costs of at-sea and dockside monitoring for the Northeast groundfish fleet again for the 2014-15 season.
Yesterday, NMFS director Eileen Sobeck announced that Northeast fisheries will get $33 million — nearly 45 percent — of the $75 million slated for disaster relief in six fisheries across the country. This relief money follows 2012 federal disaster declarations and more than a year of waiting for Congress to come around to funding the government action. In the meantime, the original $150 million allotment was cut in half, but NOAA officials also waived the 25 percent match that is usually required of states who apply for funds.
Also yesterday, the New England Fishery Management Council meeting adjourned after identifying several alternatives to Northeast area closures. At the end of the meeting's first day, it seemed as though the industry proposed plan would be set aside entirely in favor of the status quo. In the end, the new plan was included for review along with other proposals, all of which will be reviewed at a public hearing later this year.
NOAA recently released figures that show how disastrous 2012 was for the New England fleet, and by all accounts 2013 was even worse. There is little hope that we can sustain the fleet as it exists now. But with small increments of change like these, we can hope to retain critical infrastructure that will keep New England's 400-year-old commercial fishing tradition alive to fight another day.
Photo: Draggers tied up in New Bedford, Mass.; Jessica Hathaway