Mar 10 2012

Senate bill seeks millions to improve fishery science and stock assessments

Written by By Don Cuddy 

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, will introduce a bill today designed to provide millions of dollars in federal funds to help the commercial fishing industry.

The Fisheries Investment and Regulatory Relief Act could funnel more than $100 million annually into improving scientific research and fish stock assessments nationwide.

The money would come from an existing source: the customs duties raised from fish products imported to the U.S. Legislation passed in 1954, known as the Kennedy-Saltonstall Act, directs that 30 percent of all duty paid on fish imports be transferred to the Secretary of Commerce and set aside for fisheries research and other projects.

In practice, that has not been happening, according to Kerry’s office, which said that duties collected on imported fish products in 2010 totaled $376.6 million. Of that amount, $113 million went to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But only $8.4 million was used for fisheries research and development. The remaining $104.6 million was swallowed by NOAA’s operational budget.

The New England fishing industry has repeatedly criticized NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service for basing management decisions on incomplete or outdated data, with the recent dire assessment of cod stocks in the Gulf of Maine provoking the latest controversy.

A rosy stock assessment in 2008 was followed this year by a declaration that the stock has collapsed, threatening many fishermen’s survival.

“We can’t fix our fishing problems if we don’t restore trust and you start rebuilding trust by investing in fishing science that’s credible and comprehensive and comes from the fishing community itself,” Kerry said in an email to The Standard-Times.

The bill proposes to restore the original intent of Saltonstall-Kennedy; using the money in coordination with regional fishery management councils to allow local stakeholders a voice in how funds are directed.

Read the rest on South Coast Today.

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