The United States Department of Commerce issued a disaster declaration last Thursday for New York State’s fishing communities, one that could pave the way for financial relief for hard-pressed commercial fishermen.
Reacting to the possibility of severe quota reductions in the Northeast and Southern New England groundfish fisheries, the state’s Congressional delegation joined last spring with the governors of four New England states to ask Washington for the declaration. Lawmakers requested $100 million in federal relief for fishing communities.
In April, the National Marine Fisheries Service reduced the allowable catch of cod, perhaps the most important of 13 groundfish species, by 21.6 percent and indicated that even more drastic reductions would be required in 2013.
Quota reductions for yellowtail flounder and winter flounder were also promised, for a total cut in production of about 70 percent, a level that the governors of Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire said would devastate their fishing communities.
New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Tim Bishop joined in the request for federal disaster relief.
The governors’ letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated that potential harvest reductions added to already restrictive quotas “will be damaging to our fleet at a time when many businesses are already struggling to remain viable. Consequently, conditions are now overwhelmingly in favor of a disaster declaration, and we are hopeful the Department of Commerce will act swiftly on all pending requests.”
In addition to “targeted economic assistance,” the disaster funds would also be used for cooperative research “focused on improving stock assessments and the systems of data collection for the fishery. The severity of the potential consequences of inaccurate or uncertain science demand that all steps are taken to ensure that the data used is as robust and accurate as possible,” the governors’ letter stated.
“There are so many problems with the data they have. They are projecting fish stocks based on data from three years ago. Stocks are rebuilding, but not fast enough according to a human model,” Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Montauk-based Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said on Tuesday. She called the timelines for rebuilding depressed stocks unrealistic, and joined other critics of the government’s plan in saying that the government’s low stock assessments were occurring even though fishermen had kept to the catch limits.
Senator Schumer has asked that the fisheries service extend its recovery timelines in order, said Ms. Brady, “to allow the regional [Fishery Management] councils more flexibility.”
It has not been determined how the disaster funds might be best spent. “We don’t want retraining,” said Ms. Brady. “This is a momentary blip. You don’t have to sell the farm. According to models, stocks are rebuilt, but we can only catch 30 percent because the science is not funded. So they throw caution upon caution.”