Nearly $33 million in disaster relief money will soon flow to help New England fishermen hurting from declining fish stocks and tighter fishing limits. The federal government declared a fisheries disaster last year in Rhode Island. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline joined other congressional leaders to include $74 million in fisheries disaster in the fiscal year 2014 appropriations bill.
Numbers for some groundfish, such as like cod, haddock, and flounder, are still down, even though the state has put severe fishing limits to replenish these fish, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. He said our local fish are migrating north to colder waters and our fishermen are catching lots of non-native fish. Whitehouse said our local fishermen have observed changes in the ocean long before any fisheries disasters were declared.
“As another fishermen said to me, it’s getting weird out there and our fishermen are really seeing it,” said Whitehouse. “And we need to continue to be attentive to them, but this is one good short step to help with this particular crisis.”
Whitehouse said scientists are still trying to understand what’s knocking down our fisheries. Overfishing contributed to declining fish stocks, “but it really appears as if climate change affecting the oceans is having a very significant effect,” said Whitehouse. “Given how dominant a factor now climate change is in the oceans, it’s obvious to look for it there, but it has not yet been confirmed.”
“We had already taken steps to manage the fisheries to reduce fishing activity, but for reasons unrelated to fishing, the stocks continued to decline,” said Sen. Jack Reed. “So effectively, we had a situation where we had an industry without any resources and without the prospect of those resources coming back at a reasonable time.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other government officials will determine how much money Rhode Island will get based on losses and data provided by the state and fishermen. Then the governor, the department of environmental management and representatives from the fishing industry will decide together on how to use this money to restore fisheries, said Whitehouse.
The state doesn’t have to come up with any money to match this federal share. Whitehouse and Reed urged the Obama Administration to waive that matching requirement. Reed said the match waiver is important.
“Not having to match the money might make the difference in terms of accessing at all, because the state’s situation is such that trying to find the resources even to engage additional federal resources is difficult,” said Reed.