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Public Statements

Fisheries Disaster Funding

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. SHAHEEN. Mr. President, I am here to join my colleagues, Senator Murkowski from Alaska and Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island, to express my disappointment and frustration along with them that the disaster relief funding for our Nation's fishermen has been stripped from this emergency relief bill. I agree with all of those who want to make sure the victims of Hurricane Sandy along the east coast get the help they need. I think that is something to which we all are committed. But the fact is that fishermen in New England and Alaska and other parts of this country are also facing hard times. They are grappling with onerous regulations that are designed to end overfishing, and in spite of these restrictions, the amount of codfish in the Gulf of Maine has declined drastically. It has a huge impact on New Hampshire, and the problem for fishermen in my State is now one of survival.

Our fishermen have already seen their incomes decrease significantly in recent years. They depend on cod more than fishermen from any other State in New England. Cod accounts for more than 90 percent of the revenues of the fishing industry in New Hampshire. This is because our fishermen use small day boats, they fish close to shore, and most don't have the boats or equipment to catch other deep-sea species to compensate for the lack of cod. Our fishing businesses are small, and they are mostly owned by families who have been fishing for generations.

For 400 years, we have been fishing in New Hampshire. Generations of fishermen in New Hampshire have continued this proud tradition. Yet, under what is happening with the fishing regulations, we are going to lose this industry. Our coastline is short in New Hampshire--it is only 18 miles--but the fishing industry is still a crucial driver of the economy. It generates $106 million in economic activity, it supports 5,000 full-time and part-time jobs in the State, and it provides our stores and our restaurants with a local and fresh supply of fish, just as it does in Alaska and Rhode Island. This historic way of life is going to become extinct if we don't help the fishing industry.

I welcomed the decision of the Secretary of Commerce back in September to declare a Federal disaster for the Northeast fishing industry for the upcoming fishing year, but this declaration, as well as those already provided for Alaska, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and other States, is meaningless if Congress does not provide relief funding to these fishing communities.

As my colleagues have said so eloquently, the Senate voted last month to appropriate $150 million in funding for these disasters, and as Senator Whitehouse said, it was not a large percentage of the emergency relief bill. I am disappointed and, like the fisher men and women in New Hampshire who depend on this industry, frustrated that this funding has been taken out of the bill we voted on today.

It is critical that we provide relief to the fishermen and to the coastal economies in New England--and in New Hampshire as a part of the New England economy--and Mississippi and New Jersey and New York and Alaska and the other States that are affected. We have to work to ensure the long-term sustainability of these vital resources and of this historic way of life. I intend to continue to work with my colleagues from those States that are affected to make sure the fishing industry gets the help it needs to survive.

I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.


Mrs. SHAHEEN. It is not just the people who are fishing directly who are affected by this, it is also all of the other jobs that depend on that fishing industry that are going to be lost.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. The engine repair people, the net repair people, the folks who process the fish that are caught, the folks who sell fuel to the fishermen, the people who do maintenance on the boats--there is an entire economic ecosystem that is knocked down when the fishermen can't bring the catch home. Yes, the Senator is absolutely correct.

Mrs. SHAHEEN. And in my small State of New Hampshire, where we only have 18 miles of coastline, we have 5,000 jobs dependent on this industry. So in Rhode Island and Alaska, I am sure my colleagues have a significant number of jobs dependent on the fishing industry. What happens to those jobs if the industry doesn't survive? They are gone.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. I think Alaska may actually have more coastline than Rhode Island.


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