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Friday, January 18, 2013

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 can be declared 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 § 1861a and 1864). 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. States also play a role by initiating requests, providing information, and planning for the use of funds.

Oceanic conditions, climate, and weather events can impact fishery resources and/or commercial infrastructure such as boats, shoreside processing, and ports. Since 1994, federal commercial fishery failure determinations have been made on 42 occasions, and nearly $840 million in federal funding has been appropriated specifically 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 have been declared for the Northeast multispecies fishery, Mississippi Sound fisheries, and certain Alaska Chinook salmon fisheries.

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.

During the 112
th Congress, marginal changes to fisheries disaster determinations and disaster assistance were proposed in several bills. H.R. 1646 and H.R. 6350 would have amended the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to require the Secretary of Commerce to make a fishery disaster determination within 60 days after receiving a request. An amendment to S. 3240, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012, would have made make commercial fishermen eligible for disaster loans that are available to farmers. Continued congressional interest in fishery disaster assistance during the 113th Congress may stem from the need to address funding for recently declared fisheries disasters and to improve the process for declaring fisheries disasters and providing assistance to the fishing industry.

Date of Report: January 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RL34209
Price: $29.95

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