In this January 28, 2013 file photo, a ground fisherman makes his way back toward shore near the Portland Fish Pier. A proposed budget bill would provide $150 million in disaster relief funding to New England's groundfish industry and several other fisheries.
WASHINGTON – A budget bill that will go to the Senate floor for consideration would provide $150 million in disaster relief funding to New England's groundfish industry and several other fisheries.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire succeeded in adding the funding to a fiscal year 2014 appropriations bill for commerce, justice and science programs.
The bill was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday and is now headed to the Senate.
It is the latest effort to secure federal aid for the groundfishing fleet in northeastern states. In September, the U.S. Department of Commerce designated the northeastern groundfishery an "economic disaster," clearing the way for emergency federal funds to help support the industry, research programs or management practices.
But Congress has yet to earmark money for the groundfishery disaster, despite repeated attempts by New England lawmakers and members from other areas with fisheries disasters. The last major efforts failed earlier this year, when the House and Senate passed Hurricane Sandy financial relief bills without providing funding to other designated disasters.
"There are approximately 70 Maine-based boats actively fishing with federal groundfish permits, which contribute to both the local and state economy," Collins, a Republican, said in a prepared statement. "While it has been more than 10 months since the federal government declared a disaster, the declaration has not led to financial relief. The funding in this bill would be used to provide both immediate economic relief to the region's struggling groundfish industry, and to make targeted investments that will allow the fleet to survive and become more sustainable in the years ahead."
New England's groundfishing fleet is also struggling to adapt to strict cuts in its allowable catch, handed down by federal regulators this spring. Federal officials say the cuts were necessary to further protect species, such as Atlantic cod, that are recovering much more slowly than previously anticipated despite fishermen's compliance with earlier quota reductions.
An estimated 350 Maine-based vessels spent at least part of the year fishing for groundfish in 1990, in an industry that supported thousands of offshore and onshore jobs. More than 15 million pounds of Atlantic cod were landed in Maine in 1990 alone.
By comparison, the 40 to 45 Maine-based vessels that were still fishing for groundfish in 2011 landed just 750,000 pounds of cod.
The appropriations bill that will go to the Senate would also provide disaster aid to struggling fisheries in Alaska, the Gulf Coast, New York and New Jersey.
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