2007-12-13 / News

U.S. Senate passes aid resolution for Rhode Island fishing industry

By Sam Bari

Senators Reed and Whitehouse joined Coastal New England Senators in demanding that the Bush Administration provide disaster relief for local fishermen.

According to a U.S. Senate press release, late at night on Dec. 4, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution cosponsored by Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), urging the Secretary of Commerce to reconsider previous decision and declare commercial fishery failure for groundfish fishermen in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. The action will help provide immediate disaster relief to the region.

"The fishing industry is vital to Rhode Island's economy, and I am pleased that the Senate has passed this important resolution. At a time when it is costing our fishermen more to fuel up their boats and regulations are limiting their catches, we need to provide our fisherman with some measure of relief," said Senator Reed. "The Bush Administration should reverse course and provide federal assistance to Rhode Island fishermen."

"I've talked with Rhode Island fishermen working hard to sustain their livelihoods and provide for their families," said Senator Whitehouse, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. "In August, Senator Reed and I joined Rhode Island's congressional delegation to ask Secretary Gutierrez to take action to help our fishermen recover from this severe economic hardship. I strongly urge him to reconsider his decision to deny them this critical aid."

The Senate resolution, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent, noted that: "Rhode Island has provided information to the Secretary of Commerce indicating that, since 1994, there has been a 66-percent drop in Rhode Island's groundfish fishery landings and, between 1995 and 2007, groundfish revenue decreased 20 percent from approximately $7,500,000 to $6,000,000."

It went on to note that the Secretary of Commerce rejected requests from Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island to declare a commercial fishery failure prior to establishing any appropriate standard to implement section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act which says:

"If there is a commercial fishery failure, the Secretary is authorized to make sums available to be used by the affected State, fishing community, or by the Secretary in cooperation with the affected State or fishing community. The funds can be used for assessing the economic and social effects of the commercial fishery failure, or any activity that the Secretary determines appropriate to restore the fishery."

The bill also said that it is the sense of the Senate that the Secretary of Commerce should reconsider the October 22, 2007 decision to deny the requests of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of Maine, and the State of Rhode Island for a groundfish fishery failure declaration.

It went on to say that the secretary should look favorably upon the request of the State of New Hampshire for a groundfish fishery failure declaration and immediately propose regulations to implement section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to afford relief to the fishermen.

The effort to obtain relief began earlier this summer when Gov. Donald Carcieri wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez requesting a declaration of "a fisheries disaster" in the Northeast region. He asked the secretary for financial assistance to compensate the state's commercial fishing industry for economic losses resulting from federal regulations enacted since 1994.

The governor referenced five major amendments to the federal Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan as reasons for his request.

Carcieri said the regulations imposed effort reduction programs, increased mesh sizes, closed areas, and reduced trip limits to reduce fishing mortality and replenish overfished stocks. He also said the combined consequences of the regulatory actions left fishermen with few options, dealers without fish, and dockside support infrastructure without business.

The letter summed up the cumulative social and economic impact federal regulations have had on the Rhode Island fishing industry, as well as the communities dependent on the industry.

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