U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Representatives Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, today welcomed a decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce declaring a disaster for the New England multispecies groundfishery for the 2013 fishing year. The decision, announced this morning by Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, enables Congress to appropriate funds to assist Maine's fishermen, as the fishery is not recovering as quickly as expected despite the fishermen's compliance under rigorous fishing limitations. Governor Paul LePage formally requested the disaster declaration on November 21, 2011, and the Delegation supported that request in a letter to then-Secretary of Commerce John Bryson on November 28, 2011.
In the letter to Secretary Bryson, the Delegation highlighted the challenges Maine fishermen face in the wake of new science and data from fishermen indicating that the fishery is extremely challenged and some key stocks are heavily strained. Despite fishermen operating within their catch limits, a number of fishery stocks have not been rebuilt and catch limits for 2013 are expected to experience major reductions for key stocks including cod, haddock, and yellowtail. The 2013 season begins on May 1, 2013. A commercial fishing failure can be declared under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and Section 308(b) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and the declaration allows Congress to appropriate funding to mitigate the disaster.
In a joint statement, Maine's Congressional Delegation said:
"We are encouraged by the Commerce Department's declaration of a disaster for New England's groundfishery, a decision that certainly acknowledges that Maine's hardworking fishermen are facing new and unprecedented challenges to this fishery. The fact is, key fish stocks have not returned to support our fishermen despite their adherence to new and rigorous management practices. It is now time for Congress to support this industry by lowering operating costs for this upcoming fishing year and by investing in the resource for the long-term through scientific research to better understand these challenges. This declaration is a first step in a long effort to rebuild one of our nation's first industries. We continue to stand with our fishermen during this difficult period and will work together to provide critical resources that will provide relief to Maine's iconic industry, ensuring the long-term viability of this resource."