Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has taken a step toward making the state's battered fishing industry eligible for federal disaster assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Earlier this month, Patrick officially certified that Massachusetts fishermen who chase bottom-dwelling groundfish had suffered 'substantial economic injury.' He cited the poor health of key fish stocks and this year's devastating cuts in the allowed catch.

Patrick wrote in a letter to the SBA that the industry has been so economically damaged, that federal subsidized loans are essential. An industry group, the Northeast Seafood Coalition, initiated the appeal to the SBA. In the meantime, fishermen are also pursuing Congressional assistance.

Tens of millions in disaster aid for New England fishermen has been included in a U.S. Senate appropriations bill, but the House must approve the allocation.