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NOAA Looks to Hijack Emergency Fishermens Funds

Gloucester Daily Times Tuesday, June 23, 2015 10:11 am

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has in recent weeks been casting about for a pool of money to tap for its controversial on board fishing vessel monitoring program. Efforts to make fishermen pay directly for the program — yet another unfunded federal mandate — have so far fallen short.

Not to be deterred, however, NOAA administrators have come up with an even more disturbing idea — take the money from the emergency funds the government set aside for fishermen.

On Friday, NOAA Regional Administrator John K. Bullard said the $2.5 million needed to pay for at-sea monitoring for the rest of this fishing season could come from yet-to-be-delivered federal fishery disaster aid.

“The states sill have about $10 million in the ‘third bin,’” Bullard said. “(Monitoring) would be an eligible use of those funds.”

We’re sorry, Mr. Bullard. That money is already spoken for.

The so-called “third bin” of the roughly $33 million allocated to the five coast New England states and New York last year is set aside for a permit buyback and boat buyout program that would allow fishermen to leave the industry without facing total financial ruin.

That plan has been delayed by squabbling over how to develop a system that would fairly split the money among the states. The extended bureaucratic wrangling has raised the possibility the $10 million could be spent elsewhere, and it prompted NOAA’s leaders to suggest they get a cut.

It’s an offensive idea. These are emergency funds set aside to aid fishermen, not to help NOAA fund its ever-growing reach.

The proposal is especially galling coming on the heels of news that the agency hopes to expand its monitoring program to include lobster boats. Those plans have been criticized, and rightfully so, for being ill-conceived, poorly communicated and ultimately unnecessary.

Let us not forget one reason NOAA wants to expand its lobster monitoring program is because it has to spend the money it has budgeted for that plan. That’s right — the agency is putting one program into place in part because it “has to” spend money, while proposing to tap into emergency funds set aside for fishermen to pay for another program.

It’s no wonder the industry views NOAA with such suspicion.

Here’s hoping our congressional delegation — U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey — steps in to make sure the disaster aid goes where it is needed most.