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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Commercial Fishery Disaster Assistance

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Disaster relief may be provided by the federal government to assist the fishing industry when it is affected by a commercial fishery failure. A commercial fishery failure occurs when fishermen endure economic hardships resulting from fish population declines or other disruptions to the fishery. The Department of Commerce can provide disaster assistance under Sections 308(b) and 308(d) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act (16 U.S.C. § 4107), as amended, and Sections 312(a) and 315 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C § 1861). The National Marine Fisheries Service plays a central role in determining whether a commercial fishery failure has occurred and in allocating federal funding to states and affected fishing communities. Congress plays a pivotal role by appropriating funds and providing oversight of the process.

Fisheries are subject to environmental variability that may affect the fishery resource and/or commercial infrastructure such as boats, shoreside processing, and ports. Since 1994, federal fishery failures have been declared on 33 occasions, and nearly $860 million in federal funding has been appropriated for fishery disaster relief. Funds have been allocated to fisheries of the North Pacific, Pacific Northwest, Gulf of Mexico, and the East Coast. The most recent fishery failures were declared for the Maine shellfish fishery and for continuation of the West Coast salmon troll fishery.

Direct federal financial assistance has been provided to fishermen and fishing communities in the form of grants, job retraining, employment, and low interest loans. Assistance has also included fishery data collection, resource restoration, research, and fishing capacity reduction programs to prevent or lessen the effects of future disruptions to fisheries. However, critics contend that disaster assistance programs often fall short of expectations because sometimes funds are not disbursed in a timely manner, ambiguities complicate the definition of a fishery failure, relief may not be integrated with long-term fishery management objectives, and funds may not reach the people who are in the greatest need of assistance. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed regulations to clarify and interpret the fishery disaster assistance provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act, but the final rule has not been published.

Date of Report: February 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RL34029
Price: $29.95

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