2/14/2013 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to help Rhode Island fishermen and fishing communities across the country, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are leading a bipartisan effort calling on the Obama Administration to support emergency federal funding for fisheries disasters that were declared in 2012.  On September 13, 2012, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for multiple groundfish species in the Northeast Atlantic, as a result of severely low stocks of key groundfish species, such as cod and flounder.  Six Northeast states have been significantly impacted by this disaster declaration, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York.

In a letter to President Obama, the bipartisan group of Senators wrote: “We believe that it is the responsibility of the Administration, after declaring these disasters, to request the funding to respond to them.  Until funding is made available for these declarations, the affected fishermen will continue to struggle during a critical time of need.  For those that are suffering and the fishing communities they live in, time is of the essence.  They simply cannot wait for another funding cycle for help to arrive.”

Senators Reed and Murkowski were joined by Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), William Cowan (D-MA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Angus King (I-ME), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Reed worked to secure funding included in the Senate-passed Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill last year that would have provided $150 million to support recovery efforts from all fisheries disasters declared in 2012, including the Northeast groundfish disaster.  Despite the bill passing 61 to 33 in the Senate with bipartisan support, it was blocked by House leadership. 

“Fishing communities in Rhode Island and throughout the northeast will be affected, directly and indirectly, by the groundfish disaster.  I want to restore this critical funding to ensure that appropriate assistance is available.  I am pleased we were able to get strong, bipartisan support for this effort and I will continue fighting in Congress to help our state’s fishermen through these difficult times,” said Senator Jack Reed.

“It’s critical to realize there should be no distinction between the farm droughts that get national attention and speedy responses and fishery failures that we experience on the water – fishery disasters are droughts in the rivers and oceans instead of the fields and plains” said Senator Lisa Murkowski.  “My colleagues and I have jumped the hurdles to get the disaster declaration from the federal government, we should receive equal treatment as other states for the disasters we are still attempting to deal with.”

“Rhode Island's fishing industry has been hit hard by depleted fish stocks, tighter regulations, and a tough economy.  We should act quickly to provide our fishermen with the disaster funding they need to cope with the fishery disaster already declared by the federal government,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

In addition to the fishery disaster declared in the Northeast, federal fisheries disasters were declared for Chinook salmon in Alaska and commercial oyster and blue crab fisheries in Mississippi.

Text of the letter follows (PDF attached):

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to submit a budget amendment for Fiscal Year 2013 to provide emergency funding for fisheries disasters that were declared in 2012.  As you know, the Senate version of the Disaster Assistance Supplemental Appropriations bill included $150 million for these disasters.  Regrettably, the final version of this bill approved by Congress included only $5 million in fisheries funding limited to Superstorm Sandy impacts.

We believe that it is the responsibility of the Administration, after declaring these disasters, to request the funding to respond to them.  Until funding is made available for these declarations, the affected fishermen will continue to struggle during a critical time of need.  For those that are suffering and the fishing communities they live in, time is of the essence.  They simply cannot wait for another funding cycle for help to arrive.

Besides additional funding to respond to the Superstorm Sandy fisheries disaster, we urge you to include funding for the following declared disasters:

  • Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery – On September 13, 2012, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Connecticut.  The projected reductions in the total allowable catch for certain critical groundfish stocks will have a significant impact on many of the same coastal communities that were hit by Sandy.  Despite strict adherence to new and rigorous management practices by fishermen, key fish stocks have not returned.  Slow recovery and declining fish stocks will continue to have a negative impact on commercial fishing, harming local communities and economies. 
  • 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 impacted including commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, and subsistence-based residents. Beyond direct impacts, indirect impacts have been felt by communities through reduced tax revenue, reduced work for processor employees, 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 Carré 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.

Thank you for your attention to this request, and we look forward to your prompt reply.