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January 14. 2014 7:07PM

Fisheries relief included in Congress’ $1 trillion budget plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The $1 trillion omnibus spending bill released on Monday includes $75 million in disaster relief for fisheries.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, a staunch supporter of federal disaster relief for the New England fisheries, announced the inclusion of the funds in a statement issued.

“Fishing is one of our state’s oldest industries and remains a critical engine of our economy. Protecting this industry and the jobs it supports across the Seacoast is one of my top priorities, and the resources in this bill will provide necessary support for fishermen and coastal communities who are struggling during difficult times,” Shaheen said.

This summer, Shaheen and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, secured $150 million for fishery disaster relief through a Senate appropriations bill, but it was never passed into law. The $75 million proposed in the new bill is a reintroduction of that failed proposal.

Jeff Grappone, spokesman for Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, said the senator is reviewing the details of the entire omnibus spending bill.

He said she has repeatedly stood up for New Hampshire’s proud fishermen and has opposed federal catch share limits that are devastating the state’s fishing community.

“She will continue to urge federal officials to work toward a more sensible regulatory climate that will allow New Hampshire’s fishing industry to survive in the long-term,” Grappone said.

Several fisheries across the country have been declared disasters by the Department of Commerce since 2012 and require federal aid, but so far no money has been distributed, and the fisheries continue to suffer from depleted fish stocks and drastic cuts in catch allotments.

The $75 million in disaster mitigation funding for “commercial fishery failures” and “fishery resource disasters” declared in 2012 and 2013, which would include the Northeast, and New Hampshire specifically, is included in the $1.012 trillion spending bill unveiled by House and Senate negotiators.

The full House may vote on the bill as soon as today. It will also have to pass the full Senate.

“I think it’s great news. We’ve been trying to lobby for this for the past two years, ever since the first fishery disaster was declared in 2012 on a regionwide level,” said Josh Weirsma, manager for New Hampshire’s two groundfishing sectors.

New Hampshire qualified as a disaster in 2010.

Weirsma said this funding is a good opportunity for the fishery to have some type of bridge between covering the expenses it has incurred while facing year over year loss of revenues, and what the future in fishing might be.

Moving forward, Weirsma said they have to find a way for each New England state to feel compensated without dividing the fisheries.

“There are different ways people have already proposed on how the money should be spent, from direct aid to fishermen, direct aid to shore fed infrastructure, covering costs of at-sea monitoring, new collaborative research money, so everybody is going to try to get their own piece of this, including environmental groups and academia and universities who are going to want to leverage it for research purposes,” Weirsma said. “It is not going to be as simple as writing a check to fishermen for the amount of money they lost, but it is definitely something and will create some opportunities that didn’t exist for us before.”

He said it will be up to the state’s elected officials in Washington to lobby on the industry’s behalf for the funding.

“Whatever disaster aid relief money we can get, we hope to use it as a bridge to kind of bide our time until the fish stocks do recover. Guys who might be under pressure to sell their permits and stop fishing immediately … might be able to reconsider.”

As of Tuesday, there were two boats in the fleet still fishing this season. Many others ran out of certain quotas by December, meaning they could fish for nothing else, as the species comingle.

“Even compared to last year, most of our guys were fishing at least into January and February, but we’re constrained very severely, and we’re not the only ones,” Weirsma said.

Coastal communities in other states, including Gloucester and New Bedford in Massachusetts and many communities in Maine are also struggling under the strict catch limits and the catch share system.

gmacalaster@newstote.com


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