Wicker, Cantwell resubmit bill to expedite fishery disaster process

For the second straight term, the top members of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee have filed a bill seeking to reform the fishery disaster process.

On 17 March, Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) and Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) filed the Fishery Resource Disasters Improvement Act. Similar to the Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act the two filed in 2019, the new bill gives the Commerce Secretary a 120-day timeframe for evaluating disaster requests.

The bill also details how disaster relief funds can be allocated. That includes direct payments to fishing community members impacted by the disaster.

In a statement, Wicker said he’s seen the devastation that flooding in his home state has caused for the fishing industry. He said he hopes his colleagues will pass the bill quickly.

“Freshwater has devastated our seafood industry and spurred the growth of harmful algal blooms, further hurting our coastal economy,” he said. “This legislation would expedite the process by which fishermen receive disaster relief.”

Earlier this month, Cantwell noted that she and Wicker would resubmit their bill during a confirmation hearing for Don Graves, who was nominated by U.S. President Joe Biden to serve as the deputy commerce secretary.

Cantwell told Graves fishermen in her state have waited for federal officials for too long on disaster determinations.

“Let me be blunt: our fishermen are tired of waiting, dealing with NOAA on these fisheries,” she said. “It’s taken literally years to receive, you know, the disaster determination, let alone the funding. So we need a solution, and we need reform.”

In the statement announcing the bill, she said her state has suffered through 17 disaster declarations in the last 29 years, and there are several still pending.

Graves said he’d work with NOAA Fisheries staff on expediting the process.

“Sustainably managed fisheries are critical to our economy, to our culture, to the fishing industry,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Office of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell


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