In an effort to help Rhode Island fishermen and fishing communities across the country, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) helped lead a bipartisan effort to include $150 million in federal funding for fisheries disasters that were declared in 2012 in the fiscal year 2014 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations bill. This bill, approved today by the CJS Subcommittee, includes $52.2 billion in discretionary budget authority for fiscal year 2014, an increase of $2.16 billion above the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. The $150 million fisheries disaster provision could provide millions of dollars to support Rhode Island's groundfishing fleet.
"This is a positive step forward that could help provide real relief to our fishermen," said Senator Reed, a member of the CJS Subcommittee. "Fishing communities in Rhode Island and throughout the northeast were affected directly and indirectly by the groundfish disaster. This critical funding will ensure that appropriate assistance is available. I am grateful for the leadership of Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski and pleased we were able to get strong, bipartisan support for this effort. I will continue fighting in Congress to help our state's fishermen through these difficult times."
On September 13, 2012, a federal fisheries disaster was declared for multiple groundfish species in the Northeast Atlantic, as a result of severely low stocks of key groundfish species, such as cod and flounder. Six Northeast states have been significantly impacted by this disaster declaration, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York.
This spring, Senators Reed and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) were joined by 14 Senate colleagues, including Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), in asking the Appropriations Committee to allocate funding for the fisheries disasters in the 2014 CJS bill, noting: "Fishing is an integral part of our states' economies and cultures. The substantial delay in providing disaster relief is deepening the severity of the situation. We urge you to support the inclusion of these funds in the FY14 CJS Appropriations bill to provide the relief these communities need."
According to the Appropriations Committee, in 2011, U.S. commercial fishermen landed more than 10 billion pounds of seafood valued at more than $5 billion. Yet, some of these fisheries experienced significant hardships in 2012, which led the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to declare several federal fishery disasters. But these declarations are hollow proclamations, coming with no real financial relief. That's why this bill provides $150 million to help alleviate the economic impacts associated with declared commercial fishery failures, fishery resources disasters and state and federal regulations. This funding is not just about fixing damaged boats and repairing waterfronts. It's about rebuilding smarter fisheries so that businesses and coastal communities stand a better shot of avoiding future disasters and local economies can continue to grow.
Now that it has been approved by the Subcommittee, the CJS bill must be approved by the full Committee and then the full Senate. The full Appropriations Committee may take up the bill as early as this Thursday.