U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), the Ranking Member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, is leading an effort in the Senate to urge Congressional leadership to provide $100 million in economic disaster assistance for the Northeast multispecies fishery. On September 13, 2012, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank declared a disaster for New England during the 2013 fishing year, which begins on May 1, 2013. The action authorizes Congress to appropriate funds to assist Maine's fishermen.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senators Snowe and John Kerry (D-Mass.) led the Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York Senate delegations in requesting that funds be directed at lowering operating costs for fishermen in the short-term, while investing in this historic resource for future years. Specifically, the letter outlines a number of priorities for funding, including fully covering at-sea-monitoring costs for the next two fishing years, lowering sector operating costs, and investing in additional and improved stock assessments. The senators expressed concern that, without assistance, many fishermen could go out of business.
Senator Snowe said:
"I have been fighting tooth and nail for Maine's hardworking fishermen over my nearly four decade career in Congress and I continue that fight for our great state's iconic fishing industry as they confront perilous challenges to both supporting their families and maintaining our working waterfronts. The declaration of a fisheries disaster for New England is certainly a step in the right direction, but the bottom line is that we must provide resources to support the fishermen today and make investments that ensure productive fishing years in the future.
"Make no mistake, our fishermen have operated within reduced catch limits and it is outside their control that key stocks such as cod, haddock, and yellowtail, have not returned to the levels that were estimated. In the short-term it is imperative that we lower operating costs for our groundfishing fleet in New England in order to retain key infrastructure. Simultaneously, we must investigate the fundamental reasons why New England's groundfishery has experienced these unprecedented challenges and invest in science in order to more effectively manage our groundfishery for future fishing years and a new generation of fishermen."
Maine fishermen are facing additional challenges in the wake of new science and data indicating that the Northeast 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. A commercial fishing failure was declared under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and Section 308(b) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act. The declaration allows Congress to appropriate funding to mitigate the disaster.