Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the allocation of $200 million in fishery disaster relief funds appropriated by Congress on Wednesday to assist fishermen affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017 and disasters that devastated the West Coast and Alaska fishermen from 2014 to 2017.

“Last year, American fishing communities across the Gulf and Caribbean were devastated by some of the most destructive hurricanes in recent memory, while Pacific fisheries have suffered from years of hardship,” said Ross, according to a NOAA press release. “This Administration stands shoulder to shoulder with these communities as they prove their strength and resilience in the face of adversity.”

The government has allocated $25.8 million in disaster assistance to those affected by the 2015-2016 closure of California’s commercial Dungeness and rock crab fisheries and another $3.9 million to the Yurok Tribe stemming from the collapse of the fall Chinook fishery in 2016.

"After more than two years, disaster assistance for California Dungeness and rock crab fisheries will finally be delivered. California's commercial fishermen and women express heartfelt thanks to our elected officials who worked hard to secure these funds," said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "Today's announcement is worth celebrating, but we mustn't forget the extraordinary losses experienced by fishing communities and businesses in 2016."

California Governor Jerry Brown requested the determination of a fishery failure in the 2015/16 California commercial Dungeness and rock crab fisheries in February 2016.

"Many fishing families have not yet recovered or were forced to exit the fishery entirely, and severe climate change-driven impacts to the fishery are our new normal. This experience has made it clear to me that we do not manage risk appropriately in American commercial fisheries," said Oppenheim. "We must do a better job supporting fisheries during times of loss or catastrophe, for the benefit of our public trust resources, our hardworking fishing families, and seafood lovers everywhere. In the meantime, I look forward to working with state and regional agencies for the expeditious and equitable distribution of these funds."

“For far too long, the North Coast has been waiting for this federal support to relieve the economic burden from several disastrous fishing seasons,” said North Coast Representative Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). “I know that the path to recovery for our fishing communities is long but I’m grateful to see some help is finally on the way.”

Alaska will receive $56.36 million in disaster funding, which will support those affected by the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon fishery disaster.

“The news of this disaster relief funding for Alaska is incredibly encouraging. These dollars are vital to Alaskans and their families who were hit hard by the 2016 pink salmon fishery disaster,” said the Alaska Congressional Delegation of U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, and Rep. Don Young, (all R-Alaska), in a statement. “This long awaited aid will bring much needed relief to Alaska’s economy, providing compensation and recovery for commercial fisherman, processors, and coastal communities whose livelihood depends on the health of our fisheries. We commend the Secretary of Commerce and are deeply pleased to see our hard work to secure this relief finally come to fruition.”

“We are pleased to see Secretary Ross providing funds to fishermen affected by the recent disasters in the Gulf,” said Eric Brazer, deputy director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance.  “The action taken by the Administration to distribute the funds Congress included in the omnibus appropriations bill is welcomed by our fishermen in the Gulf.  Their lives were affected by the storms, and these funds can greatly help them.”

For more information regarding relief funding allocation, visit the NOAA website.

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Samuel Hill is the former associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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