The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee yesterday passed legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would help boost the West Coast groundfish fishery and protect maritime jobs.
The Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries in the Pacific Act aims to help fishermen by ensuring they receive the same interest rates on federal loans as other businesses, and extends the length of these loans from 30 to 45 years. In addition, the legislation caps the fees that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is able to collect from fishermen.
The legislation passed through the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday by a voice vote. It will now proceed to the full Senate.
A companion bill has been introduced by U.S. Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-03) and Jared Huffman (D-CA-02). Cantwell's legislation is cosponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Mark Begich (D-AK).
"It's been rewarding to work in a bipartisan sense and in a regional sense on such an important issue," Cantwell said during the hearing. "The bill gives common sense financing solutions to our West Coast groundfish fishery and its ability to refinance on their buyback loans. The West Coast ground fishery supports thousands of family wage jobs."
"We thank everybody for moving this legislation and for having so many members of the Committee understand how important the fisheries economy is to the United States," Cantwell said.
Many fishing businesses in the West Coast groundfish fishery have struggled to pay high interest rates on federal loans, fees on their catch, and rising observer costs. The Secretary of Commerce declared the West Coast groundfish fishery a federal fisheries economic disaster in 2000 because of overcapitalization and overfishing. In 2003, Congress authorized buyback loans for the fishery to decrease fishing pressure and support a catch-share program in the fishery. These loans help eliminate overfishing by buying out the permits of fishermen willing to leave the fleet. The remaining fishermen in the fleet have since been responsible for the loans.
Washington state's maritime economy as a whole supports $30 billion in economic activity and supports 148,000 jobs.
Cantwell, a member and former chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, is a long-time advocate for initiatives that protect the health of the ocean's resources and coastal economies. Herrera Beutler represents communities throughout Pacific, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties that depend on the fishing industry for economic survival.