Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-1) today introduced H.R. 6362, the Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries (REFI) in the Pacific Act of 2012. The bipartisan legislation will help alleviate financial hardship that North Coast fishermen are facing due to loan repayments on the 2003 Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery buyback loan, and ultimately retain fishery jobs and those associated with the fishery including crew members, ship yards, boat mechanics, seafood processors, dock workers, small business owners and others who depend on the fishing industry. Currently, commercial groundfish fishing on Pacific Coast generates more than $90 million in income and supplies more than 3,000 total full and part-time jobs.
"Our commercial fishers have been diligently repaying their loans, but in these tough times the loan repayments are making it nearly impossible for our commercial fisherman to stay in business," said Thompson. "The fishing industry is at the heart of our local economy, and if we do not begin to address this problem, there is a real possibility that our small boat fishers, and the businesses that depend on them, will see even greater economic harm. This legislation will save Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery nearly $2 million per year, allowing more money to be spent on local businesses that support commercial fishing operations and fisherman. Not only will this save local jobs, it will help create jobs."
"This is the type of legislation that the groundfish fishery has been looking for. It's clear that Representative Thompson understands the needs of fishermen and we are grateful for his leadership on this extremely important issue," said Michelle Norvell, Project Manager of the Ft. Bragg Groundfish Association. "This legislation will have a positive impact on all participants in the Pacific Coast Groundfish fishery but most significantly on the traditional small family fishing operation and historic fishing ports where the groundfish fishery is the mainstay for other fisheries. The strength of this legislation is that it resonates well with fishery participants and stakeholders along the west coast, it responds to the immediate needs of the groundfish fishery, and it's a win for everyone because it aims to preserve jobs and boost the economy."
In 2003, Congress authorized a $35.7 million buyback loan to the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery to help the commercial fishing industry after a collapse in fish stocks. These buyback loans are designed to help prevent or end overfishing, rebuild stocks of fish and improve the conservation and management of the fishery. Those fishermen who remained in the fishery have been tasked with repaying the buyback loan. However, while the fishermen have diligently been paying back the loan plus interest, the fees are proving too much for the small businesses to pay and remain in business.
The REFI Pacific Act would help alleviate this financial hardship by:
* Extend the loan repayment period from 30 years to 45 years;
* Guarantee that the debt obligation paid by the fisherman will not exceed 3% of the offloaded value of all the fish harvested, rather than the current 5% fee; and
* Allow the loan to be financed at current interest rates.
Cumulatively, the overall value of the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery increased in 2011 to approximately $55 million under the program established though the original buyback loan.
The money saved from this new loan will allow for more money to be spent on local businesses that support commercial fishing operations and fisherman.
The legislation was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources. The bill has ten cosponsors.