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Studds was champion of the environment

Congressman Gerry E. Studds spent decades working on fisheries and coastal issues

Congressman Gerry E. Studds spent decades working on fisheries and coastal issues

Former Massachusetts Congressman Gerry E. Studds — an advocate for environmental, maritime and fisheries issues — died Oct. 14 at Boston Medical Center due to complications from vascular disease. He was 69.

A Democrat elected to Congress in 1972, Studds represented Massachusetts’ 10th district, which includes New Bedford, the South Shore, Cape Cod and the islands. One of his most significant accomplishments during his more than 20 years of service was sponsoring the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act of 1984, which required that states on the East Coast implement a series of measures encouraging and enforcing the conservation and management of Atlantic striped bass populations. He also sponsored the original Magnuson Act of 1973, which extended U.S. fishing jurisdiction to 200 miles; sponsored the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988; and in 1992 wrote the National Marine Sanctuaries Reauthorization and Improvement Act.

“[Studds’] tenacity in winning passage of the 200-mile limit revitalized the New England fishing industry and created thousands of jobs in communities all along our coast,” says Massachusetts Rep. Bill Delahunt in a statement. “As chairman of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, he was able to build bipartisan support for many important and controversial environmental laws, a skill that is all too rare in Washington today.”

In 1996 Studds was honored when Congress named 842 square miles of protected ocean floor at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “[Studds’] work on behalf of our fishing industry and the protection of our waters has guided the fishing industry into the future and ensured that generations to come will have the opportunity to love and learn from the sea,” says Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in a statement. “The [marine sanctuary] put protections in place for our waters that never before existed and has since become a framework for protecting and maintaining marine life in Massachusetts.”

Studds’ career suffered a setback in 1983 when a 27-year-old former House page revealed that he and Studds had engaged in a consensual sexual affair 10 years earlier. Members of the House of Representatives voted that year to censure Studds for his misconduct. Shortly after, Studds became the first member of Congress to admit he was gay.

Despite the controversy voters in Studds’ district continued to re-elect him. He fought for AIDS research and was one of the first members of Congress to endorse lifting the ban on gay men and women in the military. Studds retired in 1997 after serving 12 terms in the House of Representatives.

“Since Gerry’s retirement, we have set up our home in Boston, traveled the globe and, of course, raised our dog, Bonnie,” Studds’ husband, Dean T. Hara, says in a statement. Studds and Hara married in 2004, a week after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. “It was a private life and a well-deserved quiet life after Gerry’s distinguished career in Congress.”

Studds had been hospitalized for several days before his death in October after losing consciousness while walking Bonnie in Boston. Doctors attributed it to a blood clot in his lung, according to published reports.