Florida requests fisheries disaster declaration for Hurricane Ian, but could be in for a wait

Published on
December 12, 2022
A causeway that was completely washed away by Hurricane Ian.

Fishing captains in the U.S. state of Florida and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are requesting a federal fisheries disaster declaration in the wake of Hurricane Ian – even as the state is still waiting on a determination on its request for a disaster declaration for Hurricane Sally in 2020.

DeSantis sent a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo – which oversees NOAA Fisheries – requesting a disaster declaration in the wake of Hurricane Ian, a category 4 hurricane that devasted the fishing industry along Florida’s coast in September 2022. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has so far provided over USD 3.3 billion (EUR 3.1 billion) in federal grants, disaster loans, and flood insurance payments to both the state of Florida and Florida households, but that aid is not directed to Florida's fisheries.

“The fishing community stepped up to help their neighbors when Hurricane Ian hit, and now they need our help to stay afloat,” DeSantis said in a release. “Today, I officially requested the federal government to declare a fisheries disaster to provide access to funding to support our fisherman in their recovery. While we await the federal government’s decision, I will continue to make zero interest loans available to help our captains and fishermen rebuild.”

DeSantis said Florida’s recreational saltwater fishery is the most valuable in the nation, with an estimated economic impact of USD 9.2 billion (EUR 8.7 billion), and the annual dockside value of commercial fishing in the state is estimated at USD 244 million (EUR 231 million).

“Florida’s fisheries are vitally important to the state’s economy through their impact on commercial and recreational fishing and tourism,” DeSantis wrote. “The state of Florida needs your assistance to address these critical needs and support Florida’s fishing industry.”

Fisheries disasters have been declared in Florida in the past for hurricane-related damage. In total, the state was given just over USD 7.8 million (EUR 7.4 million) in assistance for Hurricane Michael in 2018, with the state's disaster declaration request receiving a positive response within a month in October 2018.

However, Florida is still waiting on disaster determinations for Hurricane Sally, which made landfall adjacent to the state in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in September 2020. And Louisiana is also still waiting on a disaster declaration for Hurricane Ida, which hit Louisiana’s seafood sector in August 2021.

The most recently awarded disaster declaration, according to NOAA, was awarded in September 2022 for a number of West Coast fisheries, including the 2019 Fraser River and Skagit River salmon fisheries, 2019 Puget Sound Fall chum salmon fishery, and other tribal fisheries. In total, the fisheries were granted USD 17.4 million (EUR 16.3 million) in aid.  

A ruling on a disaster declaration for Hurricane Ian would open fisheries up to aid and federal assistance through NOAA – a process outlined in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. U.S. President Joe Biden already approved a disaster declaration for the state – meaning the federal government has taken on the costs of clearing debris and other recovery efforts. However, a federal disaster declaration and a fisheries disaster declaration are allowed to fund different recovery activities – with a fisheries disaster oriented strictly toward fishing-related recoveries.  

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

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