Bill to streamline fishery disaster process clears Senate committee

Published on
November 15, 2019

A U.S. Senate committee earlier this week passed a bill that would make changes to how NOAA Fisheries disaster relief program is managed.

On Wednesday, 13 November, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed S. 2346, the Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act. The bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), the committee’s chairman, calls for the disaster declaration to be streamlined by requiring the U.S. Commerce Secretary to evaluate a disaster request within 120 days.

Wicker’s bill also permits disaster funding to go straight to those affected.

“People along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast have seen firsthand the wide-ranging effects a fishery disaster can have on a local community,” Wicker said in a statement. “This legislation would make important reforms to the federal government’s disaster declaration process, ensuring those affected receive relief more quickly. This vote affirms the importance of getting this legislation to the President’s desk without delay.”

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the ranking minority member, pushed a couple of amendments to Wicker’s bill. She called for fishing charters to be included as eligible recipients for assistance.

She noted that the Trump Administration changed that policy and as a result, Washington state’s fishing industry missed out on about USD 100 million (EUR 90.5 million) in disaster relief that Cantwell believes it should have received.

“In Washington, fisheries are a cornerstone of our maritime economy. Its related businesses and seafood processors, ship builders, gear manufacturers, support 60 [percent] of our maritime economy, which is about 146,000 jobs and [USD] 30 billion [EUR 27 billion] in economic activity,” Cantwell said at Wednesday’s hearing. “Washington has experienced 17 fishery disasters since 1992, including crab, groundfish, and salmon. Unfortunately, the fisheries disaster process has become more burdensome, and has resulted in less funding and lengthy delays, putting an unnecessary burden on fishermen and fishing communities.”

Ilwaco Charter Association President Butch Smith said in a statement that five charter boats in his community were forced to go out of business after not receiving funding for the 2016 coho salmon failure.

In addition, the bill clarifies how disaster funding can be expended. Besides direct payments to fishermen, the bill would allow for money to be used for such projects as habitat restoration, public information campaigns, fishery management improvements and disaster mitigation measures.

Any fishermen who lost work due to the disaster would get priority for any jobs created by those initiatives.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

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