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Lawmakers to seek $100m fishermen relief package

Associated Press Modified: August 31, 2012 at 4:48 pm •  Published: August 31, 2012

BOSTON (AP) — New England lawmakers are preparing to ask Congress for $100 million in disaster relief funds for fishermen, including money to help them exit the industry if they wish and subsidies for those who stay in.

The proposal is outlined in a draft letter to congressional leaders from Sen. John Kerry that's being circulated among the New England delegation.

Discussions are ongoing about how to allocate the $100 million, and the details and dollar amounts discussed in the letter could change.

The proposal comes after several Massachusetts lawmakers in early August repeated a request to the U.S. Commerce Secretary for a disaster declaration for New England fishermen and fishing communities. A declaration would open the door for federal disaster relief funds.

No declaration has been issued, but the Kerry "believes the finish line is in sight," said Jodi Seth, Kerry's communications director.

"He's already working on the next steps, which includes a legislative strategy to make financial assistance a reality so that New England's fishermen are treated the same way as farmers in the Midwest when hard times hit," Seth said.

The New England fishing fleet, already pared down by years of tightening regulations, is facing catastrophic cutbacks in 2013. For instance, preliminary numbers indicate cuts as high as 72 percent are coming in the catch of cod in the Gulf of Maine.

Huge cuts for any species of bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as cod, flounder and haddock, restrict the fishing on even healthy stocks because the healthy and protected fish swim together.

The weak state of important fish stocks is driving the massive cuts. In the past, overfishing has been a key culprit in the decline. But in recent years, fishermen have caught certain species at the rates recommended by regulators, only to find out later the species was in far worse shape than scientists thought and, in retrospect, fishermen should have taken less, so deep cuts are needed.

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