11/13/2013 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In a bipartisan, bicameral letter to House and Senate leadership, 38 members of Congress - including all four members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation - today urged funding for fisheries disaster relief in the final funding package for Fiscal Year 2014.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce declared a federal fishery failure for the Northeast multispecies fishery for the 2013 season.  Led by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation to include $150 million to provide a variety of assistance to help fishermen cope with the effects of the disaster in the FY 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill.  Last year, the Senate included this funding as part of the disaster assistance supplemental appropriations bill but it was stripped out by the House.  As a result, many fishermen who have been impacted by the disasters have been waiting for assistance for more than a year. 

“Fishing is vital to local economies and provides a critical part of our domestic food supply.  Providing this assistance is a matter of fairness for those fishermen and fishing communities that have been hit hard by disasters,” said Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee who led the effort to include this assistance in the Senate CJS Appropriations bill. 

“Rhode Island's fishing industry has been hit hard in recent years by depleted fish stocks, tighter regulations, and a tough economy," said Whitehouse. "This funding could provide badly needed assistance to our fishermen.”

“Fishing and marine trades industries are a major part of the Rhode Island economy,” said Langevin.  “In 2011 alone, Rhode Island fishermen brought in more than $76 million in revenue. We need to support their livelihood and protect a critical piece of our economy at the same time.  These funds will help counteract the negative impacts of the 2013 fishery failure and will allow for reinvestment in preserving and promoting the fishing industry.”

“Rhode Island’s local fishing industry provides good-paying jobs for hardworking men and women across our state, and this critical federal assistance will help rebuild fisheries that have been impacted by disasters,” said Cicilline.  “I am proud to work with my colleagues in the delegation in helping to bring these funds back to Rhode Island.”

Earlier this year, the Small Business Administration (SBA) made a low-interest loan program available to qualifying fishermen hit by the disaster, offering loans of up to $2 million, with an interest rate cap of 4 percent and a duration period of up to 30 years.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also made $10 million in funding available through the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act for competitive grants for fishermen and fishing communities using cooperative research to advance the fishing industry.

In addition to all four members of the Rhode Island delegation, the bipartisan, bicameral letter was also signed by: U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK); Edward J. Markey (D-MA); Elizabeth Warren (D-MA); Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Mark Begich (D-AK); Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY); Bill Nelson (D-FL); Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); Robert Menendez (D-NJ); Marco Rubio (R-FL); Susan Collins (R-ME); Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); Angus King (I-ME); Roger F. Wicker (R-MS); Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT); Thad Cochran (R-MS); Kelly Ayotte (R-NH); and Charles E. Schumer (D-NY); and U.S. Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT); William R. Keating (D-MA); David N. Cicilline (D-RI); James P. McGovern (D-MA); Richard Neal (D-MA); John F. Tierney (D-MA); Steve Southerland (R-FL); Don Young (R-AK); James R. Langevin (D-RI); Niki Tsongas (D-MA); Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA); Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH); Timothy H. Bishop (D-NY); Michael E. Capuano (D-MA); Kathy Castor (D-FL); Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA); Michael H. Michaud (D-ME); Chellie Pingree (D-ME); and Tom Rooney (R-FL).

A 2011 study funded by a federal NOAA Fisheries grant to the Rhode Island-based Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation, estimated that commercial fishing and related industries account for over 6,500 jobs in Rhode Island.  Across New England the industry remains an important part of the coastal economy and culture.

Text of the letter follows:

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Chairwoman Mikulski, Vice Chairman Shelby, Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Lowey:

 

We write to urge you to include fisheries disaster relief in any final funding package for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014.

 

Since 2012, the Department of Commerce declared a number of fishery failures in the United States.  Regrettably funding has not been appropriated yet to deal with the effects of these disasters, which continue to affect communities in our states and districts. Indeed, while the Senate Appropriations Committee has included $150 million for fishery failures in the FY 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) appropriations bill, funds have not been enacted into law to address the full spectrum of disaster needs.

 

As you know, under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management and Interjurisdictional Fisheries Acts, the Secretary of Commerce must determine that a commercial fishery failure has occurred before funding can be provided to assist the affected fishery. The Secretary, after careful review, declared the following disasters in the areas we represent:

 

  • Alaska Chinook – On September 12, 2012, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for Alaska Chinook salmon fisheries in the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River and Cook Inlet.  Thousands of Alaskans have been affected including commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishermen.  Beyond direct impacts, communities have experienced reduced work for processor employees, reduced tax revenues, and reduced income for fishery dependent businesses.

 

  • Mississippi Oyster and Blue Crab – On September 12, 2012, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for commercial oyster and blue crab fisheries in Mississippi.  Historic flooding of the lower Mississippi River required opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway on May 9, 2011.  This action released substantial amounts of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound, impacting the entire ecosystem.  Mississippi’s oyster and blue crab fisheries were extensively damaged, resulting in severe economic hardship for commercial fishermen still recovering from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

 

  • Northeast Multispecies Groundfish Fishery – On September 13, 2012, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.  Despite strict adherence to new and rigorous management practices by fishermen, key fish stocks have not responded as expected.  The resulting reductions in the total allowable catch for certain critical groundfish stocks are having a significant effect on coastal communities, fishing families, and local economies.

 

  • Superstorm Sandy fisheries impacts – On November 16, 2012, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for New Jersey and New York due to the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy.  The effects of the storm have created severe economic losses for both commercial and recreational fishermen.

 

  • Florida Oysters – On August 12, 2013, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for the oyster fishery along the west coast of Florida. The fishery resource disaster resulted from excessive drought conditions in Apalachicola Bay and elsewhere in the Florida panhandle during the 2012 – 2013 winter fishing season.

 

Over the course of the last year, federal assistance has rightly been provided to a number of states for other federally-declared disasters. The fishery failures affecting our constituents are no less an economic disaster. Therefore, we request your assistance in ensuring that the $150 million fisheries disaster mitigation funding included in the Senate-version of the CJS appropriations bill be included in any final FY 2014 funding package.  These funds could be used in a variety of ways to provide fishermen vital help including support for emergency financial assistance, operational costs where necessary, economic development programs, and science initiatives to manage the fishery in a timely way that gives confidence to all stakeholders. 

 

Thank you for your attention and your support for improving conditions for fishermen throughout the country. We remain committed to preserving and promoting our fishing industry. We look forward to continuing to work with you to effectively address the challenges facing this critical industry. 

 

Sincerely,

 

Jack Reed

Lisa Murkowski

Edward J. Markey

Elizabeth Warren

Richard Blumenthal

Mark Begich

Kirsten Gillibrand

Bill Nelson

Jeanne Shaheen

Robert Menendez

Marco Rubio

Susan Collins

Sheldon Whitehouse

Angus King

Roger F. Wicker

Christopher S. Murphy

Thad Cochran

Kelly Ayotte

Charles E. Schumer

Joe Courtney

William R. Keating

David N. Cicilline

James P. McGovern

Richard Neal

John F. Tierney

Steve Southerland

Don Young

James R. Langevin

Niki Tsongas

Stephen F. Lynch

Carol Shea-Porter

Timothy H. Bishop

Michael E. Capuano

Kathy Castor

Joseph P. Kennedy III

Michael H. Michaud

Chellie Pingree

Tom Rooney