PDF _ RL34209 - Commercial Fishery Disaster Assistance
2-May-2008; Harold F. Upton; 19 p.

Abstract: 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 hardships resulting from fish population declines or other disruptions to the fishery. The Department of Commerce can provide disaster assistance under either § 308 of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act (16 U.S.C. § 4107), as amended, or § 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C § 1861(a)). The National Marine Fisheries Service plays a central role in determining whether a disaster 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 market infrastructure. Since 1994, federal fishery failures have been declared on 22 occasions and nearly $560 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. Recent cases include Gulf of Mexico fisheries in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the West Coast salmon troll fishery, where strict harvest limits were imposed in response to declines of Klamath River Chinook salmon. On May 1, 2008, another commercial fishery failure was declared for the West Coast salmon troll fishery because of the recent collapse of the Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon population.

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, 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.

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Topics: Marine, Federal Agencies

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