NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has announced that the $75 million appropriated by Congress as part of the Fiscal Year 2014 federal budget will be allocated to six fisheries across the country that were declared fishery disasters by the Department of Commerce in 2012 and 2013.
Of the total $75 million in federal fisheries disaster funding, Alaska's salmon fisheries will get close to $21 million, Florida will receive $6.3 million for problems relating to oyster harvest in the Gulf of Mexico, while commercial oyster and blue crab fishermen in Mississippi will receive $10.9 million.
NMFS said that the four coastal New England states of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island will share close to $33 million in federal fisheries disaster relief for depleted groundfish stocks there including cod and flounder, while another $1 million will be sent to commercial fishermen in American Samoa following the tsunami of 2009.
Meanwhile, fishermen in New York and New Jersey will share just $3 million to address the devastating impacts following Superstorm Sandy.
In 2013, New York and New Jersey were awarded $5 million in fisheries disaster relief, which after sequestration cuts amount to just over $2 million per state to be allocated to both recreational and commercial fishing businesses impacted by Sandy. According to Jim Donofrio at the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), that money has not yet been implemented because it's too little to disperse to those impacted by the storm of the century.
"If every fishing business owner in New York and New Jersey that was hit hard in the aftermath of Sandy were to show up at the state capital looking for some of this NOAA grant money, they'd probably be able to get a check for $75," Donofrio said. "Well great news, here's another 50 bucks for you."
"New York and New Jersey were thrown under the bus with the Sandy relief money," added John Mantione of the New York Fishing Tackle Trades Association.
On January 14, 2013, Donofrio sent a letter to Congress on behalf of its members urging support of amendments to the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act in order to increase the available funding for states affected by Sandy, at least to $50 million. "By working with state officials in New York and New Jersey, and alongside individual stakeholders and industry groups in these affected states, we knew the figure for uninsured and uninsurable loss alone in the recreational industry would eclipse the $150 million mark," he said.
By the Commerce Department's own follow-up estimate, the losses from Sandy to New Jersey was anywhere from $78 to $121 million and approximately $77 million for New York.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) whose 2013 House amendment to increase the fisheries disaster relief funding for New York and New Jersey alike was voted down in Congress said called the NMFS announcement disappointing. "The decision to allocate only $3 million for New York and New Jersey fisheries that were devastated by Sandy out of a total appropriation of $75 million is unfair and diminishes the true extent of the damage caused by the 'once in a century' storm," Pallone said.
"New Jersey's fishing industry is a critical driver of our state's economy, which was harshly impacted by the Superstorm Sandy and I have repeatedly called on NOAA to make recovery of our fisheries a top priority," the congressman noted, while calling the funding "insufficient and unrealistic."
Rep. Pallone went on to cite the Commerce Department's report which estimated $193 million in total losses for New York and New Jersey fisheries combined, saying "I find it confounding then, that NOAA has only allocated such a small and inadequate amount of funding to help us recover when the agency itself identified a far more serious need."
While RFA has praised the efforts of House members like Pallone, Jon Runyan (R-NJ) and Tim Bishop (D-NY) for trying to get additional funding through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, Donofrio said U.S. Senators from Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida and Mississippi were far more effective in shaking down NMFS for a better allotment of the $75 million in funding.
"New England draggers have consistently overfished in areas they've been allowed in, and their Senate leaders reward them with $33 million in fisheries welfare, not a dime of which is going to the beleaguered charter and for-hire sector. This commercial bias continues at the federal level while our recreational community in New York and New Jersey suffers at the hands of a broken bureaucracy and a federal law which doesn't properly reflect our unique recreational community," Donofrio said.
"If no one in Washington or at NOAA Fisheries is going to help our fishermen and recreational industry sufficiently recoup what was lost as defined under federal fisheries law, then maybe our New York and New Jersey senate delegation can fix the law and help our anglers to keep fishing," Donofrio said.
RFA said the total funding available to support commercial and recreational fishing industry losses following Sandy adds up to about $3.75 million for each state, New York and New Jersey. While the funding mechanism and distribution method has yet to be established, RFA hopes both the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and New York Department of Environmental Conservation will work transparently with stakeholders in the days and months ahead to develop a strategy.
"Our recreational sector was never looking at handouts to sit at home like the New England commercial sector, but we were just looking for an honest hand so that our folks can keep fishing," Donofrio added.
According to NOAA Fisheries, states receiving funding have broad latitude to determine the best use of the funds to meet the unique needs of their local businesses and communities, as the monies can be used for activities that, "restore the fishery or prevent a similar failure in the future, and to assist a fishing community affected by such failure."
* In 1970, President Richard Nixon transferred almost all functions associated with the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries to the Department of Commerce and the office was renamed the National Marine Fisheries Service.