Funds sought to meet commercial fishing safety requirements

Governor, all members of MA congressional delegation sign letter

Gov. Charlie Baker and the state's congressional delegation are urging President Obama to fund commercial fishing safety training grants in his next budget.

Congress increased the number of commercial fishing vessels whose crews are subject to new safety and survival training programs, but has not funded the grant programs put in place to help the fishing community pay for the training.

In a letter sent last week, Baker and all 11 members of the state's Washington delegation asked President Barack Obama to include funding for the Fishing Safety Training Grants Program and Fishing Safety Research Grant Program in his fiscal 2017 budget.

The governor, senators and representatives argued that the training programs are important for such a dangerous industry, but that the fishermen cannot be expected to foot the bill by themselves.

"Northeast ground fishermen are 37 times more likely to die on the job than police officers, and 171 times more likely to die on the job than the average U.S. worker," the governor and delegation wrote in the letter. "The rate of loss is staggering. If our school teachers died on the job at the same rate as our fishermen in Massachusetts, we would lose 400 public school teachers each year."

And by funding the grant programs, the group wrote, the country could save money by reducing the number of costly rescue missions.

"The cost savings associated with preventing just one search and rescue is more than the cost of running the (grant) program in New England for an entire year," the letter stated. "A U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue often costs $200,000 per day, and multiday searches can cost more than $1.5 million."

The letter to the president comes at a time when commercial fishermen are being asked to take on more costs associated with federal mandates.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, East Coast fishing interests challenged the legality of a federal mandate requiring them to carry at-sea monitors on their vessels during fishing trips and to soon begin paying the cost of hosting those federal enforcement contractors.

In the suit filed against the U.S. Department of Commerce in US District Court in New Hampshire, the non-profit Cause of Action is also seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent fishermen from taking on the costs, estimated at hundreds of dollars per day at sea.

The Northeast groundfish fleet included 735 active vessels and employed 2,039 crew members in fishing year 2013, according to the lawsuit, part of a larger seafood sector that supports an estimated 300,000 jobs in fishing communities along the East Coast.


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