New England Groundfish Disaster Funds Distribution Framework Agreed

2 June 2014, at 1:00am

US - The state fishery directors from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, in partnership with NOAA, have proposed a framework for the distribution of $32.8 million in federal disaster monies to the New England groundfish industry.

These funds are a portion of the $75 million allocated by US Congress as part of its Fiscal 2014 budget to help with six declared fishery disasters. In 2012, the Secretary of Commerce declared one of these fishery disasters to be the result of significant quota cuts anticipated for key New England groundfish stocks in the 2013 fishing year. Under federal fisheries law, the Commerce Secretary can declare a fishery disaster, which makes it possible for Congress to appropriate funds to provide economic assistance to fishing businesses and communities, including fishermen, affected by a disaster and to support other activities addressing the disaster.

In the consensus framework for the groundfish fishery, the six states would apportion available monies between three themes (roughly $11 million in each): one-third to be used for direct assistance, one-third to be split among the states and used at their discretion, and one-third to be used in developing a federally funded buyout or industry-funded buyback. Click here to view breakdown of monies by state.

Direct Assistance: Using an industry recommended allocation, direct assistance will be distributed equally to 336 holders of permits in the Northeast multispecies fishery who landed at least 5,000 pounds of groundfish in any one of the past four years (2010-2013). Qualified permit holders from each of the affected states would each receive a check for $32,463;

State-Specific Grants: States will split a second third of the total available monies based on an agreed-to formula that considers groundfish revenue losses affecting each state in recent years, with a slight adjustment to ensure that no state receives less than $250,000. Subject to NOAA approval of spend plans, states will have some flexibility to determine the most appropriate way to address the unique and varied needs of their fishing communities. For instance, states can opt to use monies to assist recreational fishermen, commercial vessel crew members, shore-based infrastructure, or cooperative research;

Vessel buyout/buyback: NOAA, state directors, and the fishing industry will use the remaining monies to develop either a government funded buyout program or an industry-funded buyback program. This aspect of the framework is expected to take longer to develop so funds would be held in reserve until needed.

NOAA plans to work closely with the states to complete required reviews of state grant applications and spend plans for both the direct assistance grants and the state grants to distribute this portion of the funds as quickly as possible. Typically, there is a two- to three-month review to ensure statutory and grant requirements are addressed before the funds can be made available to the recipient. For these two components of the framework, states would receive a combined allocation of:

Connecticut: $250,000

Massachusetts: $14,512,618

Maine: $2,260,034

New Hampshire: $2,039,825

New York: $814,012

Rhode Island: $1,938,617

“Each state situation is unique, and it was challenging to identify an approach that could work for all," said John Bullard, regional administrator, NOAA Fisheries. "But after considerable discussion and outreach, I think we came up with a framework that has something in it for everybody and will enable us to get some monies into the hands of fishermen and others affected as quickly as possible. That way we can continue to work together on the more long-term efforts to help ensure the future of both the fishing industry and the resource.”

“Governor Patrick has passionately advocated for the Commonwealth’s fishing industry, an critical part of Massachusetts’ economic vitality and heritage,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Rick Sullivan. “We must protect the sustainability of our fishermen, and this financial assistance will help our fishing industry survive until the resource recovers and federal harvest regulations can be relaxed.”

“I am pleased that we have been able to develop a spending plan for the groundfish disaster relief funds appropriated by Congress that helps address both the immediate needs and the long term viability of our small boat groundfish fleet,” said Douglas Grout, chief, Marine Fisheries Division, New Hampshire Fish & Game Department.

“The agreement reached by the State directors is a compromise, and I am glad that it incorporates parts of the broadly supported industry proposal. In particular, setting some of the money aside will give the industry an opportunity to consider how they could use a portion of this federal relief to provide some long-term economic benefit to the fleet, which was a priority for Maine fishermen,” Patrick Keliher, commissioner, Maine Department of Marine Resources.