PORTSMOUTH — Eleven months after the U.S. Department of Commerce declared a disaster for the Northeast commercial fishing industry, fishermen have yet to see any money to help alleviate their financial hardship.
It's a situation that U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said needs to change. During an appearance at the Portsmouth commercial fish pier Thursday, she said she and others in Congress are working to secure $150 million in federal disaster relief for coastal communities across New England, the region where the fishing industry has been hit the hardest.
If approved, the $150 million could be used to support programs such as New Hampshire Community Seafood, a collaborative between fishermen and community stakeholders to promote local markets. Josh Wiersma, the manager of New Hampshire groundfish sectors and executive director of N.H. Community Seafood, said the multi-stakeholder cooperative model is helping to support local fishing families and is striving to expand the industry beyond the traditional staples like cod fishing, which has been decimated by strict regulations to protect a dwindling cod population.
Shaheen spoke at a gathering of local fishermen and other officials, including Wiersma, N.H. Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau, Chris Duffy of the N.H. Small Business Development Center and Ellen Goethel, a Hampton resident recently appointed to the New England Fishery Management Council.
Shaheen said the disaster relief previously passed the U.S. Senate, but did not pass the House and is now back into an appropriations bill that has been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
When the disaster declaration was announced in September 2012, local fishermen were skeptical that any aid would ever come their way. Shaheen said some suggested the $150 million was "a boondoggle."
"They had no idea what they were talking about," she said. "We really needed those funds."
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