Governor Paul LePage today signed a letter with other New England Governors to Congressional Leaders, seeking disaster assistance for New England fishermen and fishing communities. The request is contingent upon issuance of a federal disaster declaration for the New England groundfish fishery and would prompt the Commerce Department to work with Congress to provide $100 million in financial relief and support to the fishery.
The Governor's disaster declaration request, and pursuant to Section 312 of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, is based largely upon the significant cuts in catch limits for such species as cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder that are projected for 2013. The projected cuts have been triggered by recently updated stock assessments that show the biomass of several key groundfish populations to be lower than previously thought and unable to meet rebuilding deadlines mandated by federal law. Given the magnitude of the projected cuts -- up to 73 percent -- the impacts to the commercial fishing industry will be profound, affecting vessels of all sizes and gear types throughout the region.
Governor LePage's request complements similar requests made by the Governors of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and most recently, New York, reflecting the importance of the New England groundfish fishery to all of the New England states.
Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce, at his discretion or upon request of a governor of an affected state or a fishing community, to determine whether there is a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster. Upon making such a determination, the Secretary is authorized to make funds available to restore the fishery or prevent a similar failure in the future and to assist affected fishing communities.
"Unfortunately, despite the peril of our fishermen, we continue to wait for the Department of Commerce to respond to our request. Now, the need for disaster relief is more critical than ever as fishermen and related businesses in our coastal communities are bracing for additional, potentially devastating cuts to the New England groundfishery in 2013," wrote Governor LePage.
The requested funding will be used to provide both immediate economic relief to our region's struggling groundfish industry, and to make targeted investments that will allow the fleet to survive and become more sustainable in the years ahead.
There are approximately 45 Maine-based vessels actively fishing with federal groundfish permits. Last year, more than 5 million pounds of groundfish, with a dockside value approaching $5.8 million, were landed in Maine.
The LePage administration has reached out to Maine's Congressional delegation as well. "There is no question that Maine's groundfish fleet is facing a disaster with the expected cuts of the upcoming fishing year, and we must do everything within our power to mitigate the economic harm to the fleet," said Maine Department of Marine Resources Deputy Commissioner, Meredith Mendelson. "We greatly appreciate the continued support of Maine's Congressional delegation in response to this crisis, and will continue to work closely with them and our industry members to find a way through this that preserves Maine's groundfish access for the future."