Even though beleaguered fishermen have reeled
in millions of federal dollars, some say they will need even more
to stay afloat.
The money, intended to provide relief from environmental
restrictions, overfishing and foreign competition, was included an
$11.2 billion emergency spending bill that President Clinton signed
The bulk of the package's money was for military operations, but
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration got $50 million
to help fishermen.
"You're going to see us coming back for more,'' said Leesa
Cobb, president of the Pacific Marine Conservation Council, which
represents commercial fishermen and scientists. "I hate to say
that, but we'll have to. In the coastal communities along the West
Coast, you're going to see people losing their boats and homes.''
The West Coast groundfish industry and conservation groups were
hoping for $100 million for a boat buyback program in which the
government would pay them for their vessels. They got $5 million to
help retrain fishermen forced out of business by overfishing.
Groundfish are species that live on or near the bottom of the
For year, fishermen have grappled with a general decline in
The 24-year-old Magnuson-Stevens Act created the first U.S.
management authority over fishing in waters from three miles to 200
The law ended overfishing by foreign boats, but overfishing by
the U.S. fleet continued, leading to declines in several fish
species. To replenish stocks, regional fishery management councils
have set catch limits and made specified waters off-limits to
New England fishermen caught $557 million worth of
fish. Eight years later, their take was $540 million. Fishermen on
the Pacific saw a drop in earnings from $362 million to $284
million over the same period.
Despite the criticism, the $50 million relief package is among
the largest the industry has received.
"The fishing industry historically has not gotten a lot for
disaster relief,'' said Eugene Buck, a senior analyst for the
nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. Buck said when the
industry gets federal aid, it usually comes in increments of $5
million to $10 million.
In debate on the latest package, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,
criticized the spending and said Congress is "placing the fish
industry at the top of our list of pork.''
Lawmakers representing fishermen insist the aid is vital.
"Lobsters represent a $52 million industry in Connecticut,''
said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "This is not chicken feed. The
lobstermen aren't looking for a handout, but this is a case where
there's a role for Congress to help out.''
New England groundfishermen are getting $10 million through a
government program that will buy back 600 fishing permits that are
not being used.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called it a "necessary first step''
and said more money may be needed for boat buybacks.
While the fishermen appreciate the relief, some say they could
do more to help themselves.
Paul Parker, executive director of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook
Fishermen's Association, said the fishing industry should sink some
of its own money into boat buybacks.
"The federal government needs to do more research to study the
fish stocks, but taxpayers shouldn't bear all the burden for
helping us,'' Parker said.
Others say the best way to reduce the industry's reliance on
federal aid is to restrict more fishing areas and increase aid to
Lee Crockett, executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation
Network which represents conservationists and commercial and sport
fishermen, said more restrictions would put some fishermen out of
work. But he said it is a sound investment to give those fishermen
temporary federal aid while fish stocks replenish themselves.
"If you want to stop this raid on the Treasury, you're going to
need more regulations,'' Crockett said. "That means there's going
to be a period where fishermen are going to have a tough time, but
it won't be stretched out. If there are no fish for fishermen to
catch, they're going to keep coming, hat in hand, looking to
Congress for money.''