Fishing boat crews will reel in a piece of federal aid
Crew members of groundfish boats are slated to get nearly 10 percent of the $13.4 million federal aid package for the state’s fishing industry.
The state Division of Marine Fisheries approved the final plan for the distribution of the funds last week, and U.S. Sen. John Kerry said he expects federal regulators will adopt the state plan. Most of the money will go directly to fishing vessel owners.
An initial proposal only included $375,000 to help subsidize health insurance for crew members, but Division of Marine Fisheries director Paul Diodati raised that amount to $500,000 and included $750,000 in direct financial grants for crew members.
Diodati made the changes last week based on comments from industry advocates that crew members would be unfairly left out of the original distribution plan.
The change will have the biggest impact in New Bedford, where many large fishing boats are docked that have crews of three to five people and make regular overnight trips. Fishing vessels in smaller ports, such as those on the South Shore and Cape Cod, often leave for day trips with only one or two people aboard.
Jim Kendall, an industry consultant in New Bedford, said some boat captains would distribute money among regular crew members, but many other fishermen would be left with nothing.
“Their pain is real,” Kendall said. “They’re going through some unbelievably tough times. ... It’s absolutely vital to maintain some of these people so we can have crews if and when we get the boats back out fishing.”
The aid package was passed by Congress last year after the Bush administration denied Gov. Deval Patrick’s request to declare that the state’s fishing industry is in an economic disaster because of a new set of fishing regulations. Those rules, which are known as “Framework 42” and took effect in 2006, more than halved the days at sea for many Massachusetts fishermen, allowing many of them only 24 days of fishing a year.
The state’s plan to divvy up the money would set aside nearly $11.3 million for grants to fishing permit holders. The bulk of the money, about $10.6 million, would be distributed among vessels with federal groundfish permits. Another $680,000 would be split among charter boats and commercial groundfish boats with state permits.
State and federal agencies would split up nearly $820,000 to pay for administration costs.
A Division of Marine Fisheries spokeswoman said state officials hope that the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration approves the plan within 45 days. It could take another three months to distribute the funds to the fishermen, she said.
“I think that everyone who was affected got something,” said Ed Barrett, a fisherman from Marshfield. “I appreciate that the division heard the input and then changed its plan accordingly.”
Jon Chesto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.