When the surge from superstorm Sandy inundated New York and New Jersey, the nation responded.

When there is a tornado, wildfire or earthquake, the federal government offers a hand to the people who have lost their homes and businesses.

It’s the right thing to do and it’s the smart thing to do. Keeping people from getting wiped out financially by a natural disaster maintains local economies and protects job markets from collapsing. Help in the early stages costs less than bailing out someone after they hit bottom.

What is happening to the northeast’s ground fishing industry is a natural disaster, just as devastating as a drought or a wildfire. The federal government, however, is just making it worse.

Fishermen have been regulated under several regimes designed to rebuild the threatened stocks of cod and other species, while still fishing enough for some of them to survive financially.

As the catch is limited more each year and fishing boats are forced to leave the fleet, however, these small businesses and the businesses that supply them with fuel and maintenance are forced to pay the price.

This week, the U.S. Senate delivered some more bad news, by passing a Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill that did not include any money for New England’s fishermen.

That news is going to be compounded this week with even worse news: Based on scientific modeling, the cod is not coming back fast enough, and catch limits likely will be revised downward by another 70 percent to 80 percent.

That will be disastrous for the fishing boats still in business and for the onshore businesses that support them.

Science should be the determining factor in deciding how many fish the industry can land sustainably, but it is not fair to treat the victims of this natural disaster differently from the people who were hurt by storms such as Sandy or Katrina.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce designated the northeastern groundfishery an economic disaster, making it eligible for federal funds. Getting a declaration and getting the funds, however, are not the same thing.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation should use their influence with their colleagues, especially those in the Republican-controlled House, to treat the fishermen of the northeast with the same compassion that they treat the victims of other disasters.

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