PROVIDENCE, RI – U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse together with Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline and Governor Gina M. Raimondo and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today announced a new wave of federal funding has been released from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide direct assistance to Rhode Island fishermen affected by the 2013 groundfish disaster.  The $705,658 allocation will also support a recruitment and training program aimed at enhancing the commercial fishing industry’s workforce.

These funds are part of a $75 million appropriation package that was included in the Fiscal Year 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act to respond to six declared fishery disasters throughout the nation.  In 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce declared a disaster for the Northeast groundfishery due to sharp reductions in catch limits anticipated for the 2013 fishing year.  In 2014, an agreement was reached to ensure that Northeast fishermen would receive approximately $32.84 million from the $75 million pot of disaster relief funding, with the funds to be paid out in three installments.  Rhode Island’s first tranche ($1.4 million) was distributed to the state in the fall of 2014.  The state’s application for its second pot of funding ($545,367) was approved by NOAA Fisheries in the spring of 2015 and is currently being administered by DEM in the form of direct-assistance payments to affected fishermen.  This third wave brings the state’s total share to $2.65 million.

The latest federal funding package issued to the state will be administered by DEM as direct assistance to fishermen including captains and crew to mitigate the economic impacts of reductions in quotas for several species of groundfish.  The money will also be used by DEM to develop a recruitment and training program for commercial crew members that focuses on safety, operations, species identification, and other key issues that are central to building skill sets for commercial fishers.

“I worked hard to include this federal assistance and I am glad it is finally being allocated to Rhode Island.  My goal was to provide the state and fishermen with wide latitude to put the money to areas of greatest need.  These funds should provide some much needed help for our fishermen and fishing communities.  Fishing is vital to our history and our economy, and we need smart policies and investments that will help set the groundfish fishery on a more viable, sustainable path for the future as well,” said Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Senate’s Commerce Justice Science Appropriations Subcommittee, who led the bipartisan effort along with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to include $75 million in emergency funding in the 2014 Appropriations bill. 

“Rhode Island’s fishing industry is vital to our economy and is embedded in our state’s tradition and culture,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “I am pleased to see that Rhode Island fishermen will finally see the much needed federal aid our delegation worked so hard to secure.”

“I was proud to help secure this federal disaster funding, and I’m thrilled that these monies will soon be in the hands of Rhode Island fishermen,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “These funds will help mitigate losses incurred by fisheries in our state, and will also fortify the industry and help our state to better adapt to the changing industry landscape.”

“Rhode Island’s fishing industry is an essential part of our economy that supports thousands of good-paying jobs,” said Congressman David Cicilline. “I’m pleased that we were able to deliver this essential federal funding that will help support economic growth throughout our state. I look forward to working further with Rhode Island’s commercial fishing industry to help create new policies and opportunities that help them succeed.”

“Commercial fishing in Rhode Island is an important sector of our economy, supporting shore-side businesses, processing facilities, and thousands of local jobs,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo.  “And it is an industry ripe for growth. I applaud all partners involved in securing this funding and working with the industry to apply these resources toward workforce development; this is an innovative approach that will create jobs, support working families, and strengthen our economy.”

“Kudos to Senator Reed and the Rhode Island Congressional Delegation for their leadership in securing these additional resources to benefit Rhode Island’s commercial groundfish industry,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “We look forward to working closely with our industry partners to provide needed financial assistance to local fishermen and design a recruitment and training program that supports the sector’s continued viability; we know how important such a program is to the industry, and we’re thrilled to be part of making it happen.”

Eligibility for direct assistance funds is based on criteria established by DEM in consultation with the fishing industry.  

Rhode Island has a diverse commercial fishing industry, with groundfish like cod, flounder, and whiting being one part.  The total ex-vessel value of all commercial species landed in the state is approximately $80 million annually.  Those landings generate some $200 million in direct sales to wholesale and retail markets.  Total employment directly associated with Rhode Island’s commercial fishing industry is estimated to be about 5,000 jobs.