Congress unveiled a $1.012 trillion spending bill yesterday that will fund the government until October and contains $75 million in disaster mitigation funding for commercial fishery failures and fishery resource disasters in 2012 and 2013. Given the inability of Congress to do much of anything constructive this year, it’s amazing that the $75 million is included.
But it’s a far cry from the original request for $150 million for disaster declarations for Alaska king salmon fisheries, Mississippi oyster and blue crab, New England groundfish, Florida oysters and Superstorm Sandy-related damage in New York and New Jersey. And it’s sad that fishing communities have had to wait so long for sorely needed disaster relief funds.
You can’t say fishing industry advocates on both sides of the aisle in Congress haven’t pressed their fellow legislators to include the entire $150 million. Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) did so last year, as seen in the video below.
And a bipartisan group of legislators wrote to House and Senate leaders back in November urging that the $150 million be included in the spending bill.
“For the communities they affect, fisheries disasters are as devastating as other federally declared disasters,” the letter states.
That’s for sure. Just yesterday, the Boston Globe carried a story that illustrates how the groundfish disaster has hurt New England fishing communities.
The fishing industry has withered so much in Stonington, Conn., the story says, that Wilcox Marine, a 135-year-old family marine supply business is closing its doors. The number of draggers in Stonington has dropped from 50 in the mid-1990s to two today.
Now imagine the effect upon port services like fuel and ice, boatyards, processing facilities and other related businesses in fishing communities throughout the region. It underscores the real need for those disaster assistance funds.
“These funds could be used in a variety of ways to provide fishermen vital help including support for emergency financial assistance, operational costs where necessary, economic development programs, and science initiatives to manage the fishery in a timely way that gives confidence to all stakeholders,” the legislators’ letter noted.
Far too many fishermen have suffered while waiting for the folks on Capitol Hill to come across with some form of disaster relief. Congress, don’t make them wait any longer.