Feds issue disaster declaration for Northeast groundfishing industry

The US Commerce Department has declared a disaster in the Northeast groundfishing industry for the 2013 fishing year as fish stocks fail to rebuild, a move that opens the door for Congress to appropriate relief funding for the industry.

In a letter to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca M. Blank said she had determined there was a “commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster.”

“I am deeply concerned about the potential impacts to Northeast fishermen and fishing communities,” she said.

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“Despite fishermen’s adherence to catch limits over the past few years, recent data shows that several key fish stocks are not rebuilding,” Blank wrote. “Low levels of these stocks are causing a significant loss of access to fishery resourcess with anticipated revenue declines that will greatly affect the commercial fishery.”

She said if Congress appropriates disaster funds her agency “will work with your state to develop an effective program for an economically robust and sustainable fishery.”

US Senator John F. Kerry said he was working with fellow members of the Massachusetts delegation to get $100 million in disaster assistance.

This is a big deal for our fishermen and the entire industry because it paves the way for the financial assistance that will determine whether they can stay open for business. This is exactly what we needed to strengthen our hand as we continue to go after the funding,” he said in a statement.

US Representative Edward Markey said, “This economic disaster is New England’s underwater equivalent of a drought, where the drops in stocks of fish are causing serious economic harm to fishing businesses, their families, and their communities. These people need help.”

Markey said it was up to Congress to “show the leadership necessary to provide economic relief in the short term” while efforts continue to rebuild fish stocks.