Congressmen file bipartisan bill to add pandemics to fishery disaster law

Two U.S. congressmen have filed a bill that would allow states to declare fishery disasters because of pandemics including COVID-19.

The legislation filed by U.S. Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) would update the Magnuson-Stevens Act to include pandemics as a disaster reason, which would open the door for additional funding.

“Coronavirus is just as much of a disaster for this fishery as it would be if a Category 5 hurricane hit, and our lobstering and fishing communities deserve the same relief fisheries receive for other disasters,” Golden said in a statement.

Under the CARES Act passed in March, U.S. fisheries received USD 300 million (EUR 266.1 million) in direct assistance. However, industry leaders stated that more – upwards of USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.33 billion) – would be needed as many fishermen were unable to find markets for their catches, if they were even able to head to sea in the first place.

When state-by-state allocations of the stimulus funds were announced in May, it was revealed Maine received USD 20 million (EUR 17.7 million) of that funding and Louisiana just USD 14.8 million (EUR 13.1 million), far less than the USD 50 million (EUR 44.4 million) Alaska and Washington both received. Graves was highly critical of that amount, saying that states the produce less seafood received more funding.

By contrast, Louisiana fisheries received more than USD 58 million (EUR 51.5 million) in disaster relief funding for the impact of last year’s Bonnet Carre Spillway openings had on the state’s fisheries.

“Fishing serves as the economic engine of many coastal communities – the heartbeat of our nation’s economy,” Graves said. “If we are going to enjoy the resources American fishers provide, then we need to make investments to help our anglers.”

Patrice McCarron, the executive director of the Maine’s Lobstermen’s Association, said other industries have received billions in aid to help them rebound from the coronavirus. Lobster fishing is a billion-dollar enterprise, but she noted it has had to share the CARES Act funding with other fisheries in the state.

“This sum does not come close to meeting the needs of lobstermen now, and falls well short of what our fishery will need to make a full recovery,” McCarron said. “Our lobstering communities are facing a crisis. We strongly support Rep. Golden’s common-sense legislation to allow a fisheries disaster declaration in the case of this pandemic and provide desperately needed resources to keep our industry afloat.”

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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