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Hard-Hit New England Fishermen Receive Financial Aid

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STRUGGLING New England fishermen can breathe a small sigh of relief due to a new $30 million government assistance package.

The aid package, announced March 21 by Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown, is only the first step in the long road to recovery for New England's collapsed fish industry. Fishermen have been devastated by low fish stocks in Atlantic waters, as well as stringent conservation measures.

``This $30 million package will be used to address immediate economic needs,'' Mr. Brown said. ``It will help fishermen who are working as hard as they can but who can't bear up under the burden of existing debt.''

The two-part funding package, which comes from the president's contingency disaster fund, will aid both the fishing industry and local communities. The aid package breaks down as follows:

r $18 million will be made available for communities that depend on the fishing industry. The funds, administered by the Economic Development Administration, will be appropriated to communities through revolving loan funds and grants.

r $12 million will be targeted to individual fishermen through loan guarantees and grants to encourage them to get involved in other industries, such as aquaculture and harvesting underutilized species like mackerel.

These funds, distributed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will also go toward setting up so-called ``fishery assistance centers'' throughout New England, which will provide loan assistance information and counseling.

Because of overfishing and weak conservation measures in the past, New England's fishing industry has declined dramatically over the past three decades. Species of groundfish such as cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder have decreased, as have stocks of tuna and scallop.

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