National Policy

Fisheries Disaster Money Shows, but Where Should it Flow?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/MediaPhoto

Last week the most unproductive Congress in our Nation’s history managed to squeeze out an omnibus appropriations bill that includes $75 million dollars for fisheries disaster assistance. New England’s Congressional delegation has been working hard since the time that John Kerry and Barney Frank were still in office to secure this funding. There was no slack in the line when Kerry and Frank left office as Rep. Bill Keating, Sen. Warren, and Sen. Markey, as well as Congressional leaders from Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine, worked together to secure these funds in the face of both the stupidly political and the very real budget hurdles.

As the saying goes: if it was easy, it would have been done years ago. This is a good success in an exceptionally difficult time for securing any kind of new funding. (Because you might be wondering and for what it’s worth, CLF supported disaster assistance funding for New England because of the radical downturn in the cod assessments but there wasn’t much of a role for us but to root on our Congressional delegation.)

Now what? Some of the first responses were “It should have been $150 million” and “It should have been here years ago.” Well, it isn’t and it wasn’t. Could the bill have been written better? Absolutely. Let me just suggest that the first response should been “Thanks.” Disaster relief funding could still help a good number of people. A thoughtful and creative process for using this rare and scarce opportunity is warranted.

So, what to do with all that money? The fisheries disasters didn’t just happen in New England. Gulf of Mexico oysters, Alaska salmon, and ports and marinas destroyed by Superstorm Sandy are due their fair cuts. The hard reality is that the pot for New England is much smaller than the region could have used to start with and then needs to be disbursed between states, the varied ports within states and the different parts of the groundfish fleet. This is the hard part and I don’t envy the folks who have to work out the breakdown of funds.

Here are some possible opportunities to get the best use out of New England’s disaster assistance:

  • Provide assistance to owners/captains & crew with documented declines in landings in 2013 in cod, Gulf of Maine haddock, Georges Bank yellowtail, and plaice as compared to their average landings in the 2010-2012 fishing years. Assistance should be based on need but shouldn’t punish boats or crews that shifted into other species when groundfish populations were clearly suffering from overfishing.
  • Fund programs in data collection and analysis through partnerships with regional university centers focused on using fisheries dependent data to increase the frequency and efficacy of surveys and build confidence in the results. A shared goal should be to reduce the risks of similar quota shocks in the future by increasing the reliability and predictability of assessments.
  • Continue investments in electronic monitoring. Money saved and increased accuracy of catch data from electronic monitoring add up in the long run and cuts future vessel costs.
  • Examine the opportunities for targeted support for waterfront infrastructure. Some New England port towns have developed plans to maintain and expand the economic opportunities for their fleet and communities. Some have not. Those that have planned for the future deserve support to meet their established working waterfront needs.
  • Restore funding to job retraining and fisheries assistance offices to help fishermen and their family members who want to transition out of fishing. Both large and smaller ports should have access to retraining programs.
  • Cooperative research focused on understanding cod, yellowtail and haddock movements is always a good area to fund, as is fleet-based gear research designed to improve gear selectivity and reduce ecological impacts.
  • Check in with the valuable party charter fleet to determine whether disaster assistance is necessary for them as well and develop responsive programs as needed and possible.

What not to do? Don’t capitalize a shift of fishing effort from groundfish into other fisheries with federally subsidized funding of poorly designed buyouts or other aid packages. Funding a groundfish permit/vessel buyout is a tricky business that seems to go wrong as many times or more than they go right: tread carefully here.


7 Responses to Fisheries Disaster Money Shows, but Where Should it Flow?

  • Ben says:

    Didn’t hurricane Sandy victims already get disaster relief money to their fisheries?

    • Sean Cosgrove says:

      Hi Ben:

      You are right. The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 was signed into law on Jan. 29 of 2013 and included a total of $5 million for fisheries assistance. An additional $5 million was included in the Consolidated Appropriations bill signed into law this month.


  • Tony Austin says:

    Any hope for the return of a viable stock of Cod demands the cessation of dragging and of gill netting. The Canadians shut both down in 1992, and some of t heir fisheries are slowly rebounding. Ours don’t have a chance until serious attenuation of destructive kinds of fishing take place. Whatever is done with the money it should not reward those who decimated the fishery.

  • roy diehl says:

    this is supposed to be sandy relief not a new england groundfish relief bill so hopefully the majority of this money will go where the storm damage was , and rightly where it should

    • Sean Cosgrove says:

      Hi Roy:

      The disaster assistance for Sandy relief was signed into law a year ago. This recent bill is the Consolidated Appropriations Act which contains all spending to fund the federal government through Sept. 30, 2014. The fisheries disaster assistance for New England and other fisheries disasters around the country designated in 2012 and 2013 were included in this bill. Only a portion of the $75 million allocated will come to New England. It’s not yet clear how much.


  • No money should be given to any kind of cooperative research- NONE of the data from special interest groups has made it into the process. NMFS Science Center has the capability to work directly with fishermen- and choose not to. This money should go directly to invested, active participants in the fisheries that have endured cuts in quota- especially the NE Groundfish fishery. Taking a 78% cut in certain species has left many active participants with nothing – nothing to catch-no work- just a pile of bills. People that have invested and work their whole lives – are now with out work or income – due to these cuts…

  • Brian says:

    Maybe we should put a bounty on some of the predators starting with the over populated seals who eat their weighting in fish every day then the dog fish comrades ect why are these out of control over populated mammal fish and birds who hammer the rebuilding of any fish stalks not held in check if a fisherman took as many fish they would be destroyed and put in jail y do the fisherman always get blamed obvious fisherman and there family’s and infrastructure / community of the fishing industry doesn’t matter more farm raised imports with formaldehyde laced fish is the way this country leaders chose to go yea lets make it easier for the other country’s to better their economy and take the tariff off the imports into United States wow

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