Blumenthal Demands Measures to Ensure Connecticut Fisherman Get a Fair Shake

Blumenthal: “I’ve been on the docks and in their towns, and we need better answers” for Connecticut fishermen

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today in a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) questioned New England Fishery Management Council Chairman Dr. John Quinn on how his organization intended to work with legislators to confront discrepancies in fish stock that have devastated Connecticut and New England fishermen and their communities.

“The system we have now has failed the fisherman of New England,” said Blumenthal. “That fishing fleet is struggling. The effects of climate change have driven the fish that they customarily catch north, and it has driven other fish from southern areas into our areas, but the catch limits have not changed, so what they’ve seen is that they haul a catch beyond their permissible quota of fish, they have to throw them back, there’s a waste – billions of dollars are trashed in our oceans annually, and meanwhile fisherman from southern states come into their waters and catch their fish. There is something profoundly unfair and intolerable about this equation.”

Blumenthal continued, “The fishing fleet of New England has run out of patience, and I think there’s a need for sweeping, radical, immediate change to accommodate the dwindling, dying industry that is essential to our economy. Would you agree?”

Quinn responded, “I would agree in part. I think I like to call the New England fishing industry a tale of two industries. Parts of it – the scallop industry – is booming. It’s made New Bedford one of the major ports and oftentimes many boats from as far down south as North Carolina would come and fish out of New Bedford. On the groundfish side, you’re correct. It’s been a very struggling industry. Some of the catch limits and the ACLs we put in place were based on stock assessments that were performed with industry involved and with the science sector involved. It’s a very difficult challenge for the groundfish fleet, but not necessarily for the scallop industry.”

Blumenthal also questioned Chris Oliver, the Assistant Administrator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries about his agency’s responsibility to protect funding for essential programs such as the Sea Grant Program, and Milford, Connecticut’s Milford Lab, during budget negotiations with the White House.

An abridged transcript is copied below. Video of Blumenthal’s full line of questioning is available here.

Blumenthal: “The system we have now has failed the fisherman of New England. That fishing fleet is struggling. The effects of climate change have driven the fish that they customarily catch north, and it has driven other fish from southern areas into our areas, but the catch limits have not changed, so what they’ve seen is that they haul a catch beyond their permissible quota of fish, they have to throw them back, there’s a waste – billions of dollars are trashed in our oceans annually, and meanwhile fisherman from southern states come into their waters and catch their fish. There is something profoundly unfair and intolerable about this equation.”

Blumenthal: “The fishing fleet of New England have run out of patience, and I think there’s a need for sweeping, radical, immediate change to accommodate the dwindling, dying industry that is essential to our economy. Would you agree?”

Quinn: “I would agree in part. I think I like to call the New England fishing industry a tale of two industries. Parts of it – the scallop industry – is booming. It’s made New Bedford one of the major ports and oftentimes many boats from as far down south as North Carolina would come and fish out of New Bedford. On the groundfish side, you’re correct. It’s been a very struggling industry. Some of the catch limits and the ACLs we put in place were based on stock assessments that were performed with industry involved and with the science sector involved. It’s a very difficult challenge for the groundfish fleet, but not necessarily for the scallop industry.”

Blumenthal: “Well for all industries, and for our fishermen – our New England fishermen – the prosperity for the South Carolina or North Carolina fishing industry – we wish them well – but they’re not doing us any good, very simply. And that’s the anger and frustration that I feel on their behalf and certainly they feel it even more directly. I’ve been on the docks and in their towns, and we need better answers for them. Would you agree?”

Quinn: “I don’t disagree, and I think the council process is to collect as much data as we can get to have accurate stock assessments. I think with your state of Connecticut there’s been this northerly move of fishing stock – lobsters and other species have moved north – so we don’t have a simple solution to that water temperature raising or ocean acidification.”

Blumenthal: “Well it is due to climate change, I agree, but I would also respectfully suggest that the data is there, the facts are known, there’s clearly a need to change this system…The present system is far from satisfactory, it’s a downright failure, and I’d like to talk to you further about ways we can improve it.”

Quinn: “I’d be happy to, Senator.”

Blumenthal: “Mr. Oliver, my question to you concerns the budget submitted by the President of the United States. We’re here today to discuss fisheries and their health, including shellfish. Shellfish have a rich history in Connecticut, rich in our culture and rich in our economy, and I’m working hard to preserve opportunities in that sector in our fishing economy, and that’s why I’m so concerned about President Trump’s budget among other reasons. That budget slashes funding for programs like Sea Grant, and funding for the Milford Lab in Milford, Connecticut and for the University of Connecticut. They are doing pathbreaking research in areas that concern our fishing industry, these federal research efforts to help grow and expand certain forms of agriculture – in effect, aquaculture – are very, very promising and important for the entire country. As a representative for this Administration how can you justify the proposed cuts for these NOAA programs that you are responsible for administering?”

Oliver: “Senator, I don’t know that I’m in a position to comment very extensively on the President’s budget. I do know that they’ve placed a revised emphasis on the Department of Defense and national security.”

Blumenthal: “I’m on the Armed Services Committee sir, and I very much support that emphasis and it’s incorporated in NDAA which I have helped to approve through the Armed Services Committee – it will come to the floor of the Senate probably next month. I support it, it was passed unanimously, but this kind of slashing and trashing of programs that are essential to the kinds of programs you administer, that are vital to our economic future in aquaculture I consider a mockery of the mission of your agency. And if you’re not in a position to justify it, who would be?”

Oliver: “All I can say sir is we’re going to do our best to operate within the budget that we have, and I know that a lot of the programs that were slated to be cut involve cooperative agreements or past grants of funding through the Sea Grant program, for example, and grants to the coastal states. We’re going to do our best to make that up internally…”

Blumenthal: “Are you going to commit to me that you can make up those cuts to the Sea Grant program and the Milford Lab and the University of Connecticut that are essential to those programs?”

Oliver: “I can’t commit that we’re specifically going to be able to make those up from our baseline budget. I think that we’re facing some tough decisions too. I’ve said on many occasions that I feel that this agency may be in a position to refocus on some of its very core mission – science mission – “

Blumenthal: “You’d agree with me though, those are valid and important programs?”

Oliver: “Of course sir, I really do.”

Blumenthal: “If you agree these programs are valid, then your agency has a responsibility to fight for them and to make sure they are fully funded.”