Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation is applauding an announcement today by the U.S. Department of Commerce declaring a disaster for the Northeast groundfish fishery. Last month, Rhode Island joined other Northeast states in asking the federal government to approve the declaration, which could make Rhode Island fishermen eligible for additional loan programs and authorizes Congress to provide funds for assistance programs. The delegation wrote to Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank in support of the request made by Governor Chafee. The Governors of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York also requested the declaration.
"Today's announcement by the Department of Commerce is an important step forward in our ongoing efforts to support Rhode Island's fishing industry," said U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline. "We recognize the importance of the industry and the challenges facing it right now. We will continue fighting in Congress to help our state's fishermen through these difficult times and working with federal officials as important management decisions are made."
On Monday, NOAA officials John Bullard, the new Northeast Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, and Bill Karp, the new Northeast Fisheries Science Center Director, joined Senators Reed and Whitehouse and staff members from the offices of Reps. Langevin and Cicilline, to hear firsthand from Rhode Island fishermen on a number of issues, including the state of the groundfishery. The listening session was attended by dozens of fishermen who asked questions and provided comments on how the agency can better interact with and support the industry.
A 2011 study funded by a federal NOAA Fisheries grant to the Rhode Island-based Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation, estimated that commercial fishing and related industries account for over 6,500 jobs in Rhode Island. Across New England the industry remains an important part of the coastal economy and culture.