FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Teri Frady
Gloucester, Mass. The Commerce Department will provide $5 million in disaster relief to commercial fishermen who have suffered losses because of declining fish stocks in the Gulf of Maine, Commerce Secretary William M. Daley announced today.
The department's National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking public comment on the relief proposal, which is designed to compensate fishermen who suffered economic harm during a series of closures of inshore fishing grounds, designed to protect dwindling Gulf of Maine cod stocks.
Details of the disaster relief proposal are expected to be published on Friday, June 11, in the Federal Register. NOAA Fisheries will accept public comments for 15 days, through June 28.
"The disaster relief program is designed to help people who are hurting financially as a result of the decline of the inshore groundfish fishery," said Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley. "This is a creative program that will allow us to get aid to the fishing community now in exchange for help with research projects over the next two years."
The $5 million relief funds were approved by Congress at the request of the New England delegation, which urged NOAA Fisheries to work with the affected fishermen to develop a disaster assistance program to disburse the money. In order to take part in the proposed program, fishermen receiving relief funds this year would make a commitment to participate in fishery-related research.
NOAA Fisheries developed the proposed compensation/research plan over the past five months with extensive input from the fishing industry, including the "Tri-State Conference," a group of fishermen from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Other fishing industry members also provided input, including members of the Massachusetts Fisheries Recovery Commission.
The proposed plan would compensate permit holders and crew who suffered economic harm during a series of closures of inshore fishing grounds in calendar year 1999, closures intended to protect dwindling Gulf of Maine cod stocks. Economic harm would be calculated by comparing the number of days fished from February through June this year with the number of days fished in the same time period in 1998, before most of the closures took effect.
Eligible permit holders would be compensated at a rate of $1,500 per day-at-sea not used in February through June of 1999, if during the same months in 1998 they fished in areas closed in 1999. Part of this money would be designated for crew members. Compensation would be reduced to $900 per day-at-sea if the permit holder does not designate crew to receive compensation. Permit holders who fish alone, however, could designate themselves as crew and receive $1,500 per unused day.
As proposed, eligible permit holders could apply for compensation for all their days-at-sea not used because of the stock decline and resulting closures. No compensation would be paid until all applications have been submitted. If the compensation requests total more than the available funds, each permit holder would be compensated for an equal proportion of the days for which he or she applied.
To speed up the release of disaster funds, NOAA Fisheries is proposing that eligibility be based on information fishermen have already supplied to the agency in the form of logbooks and other required reports. This would eliminate a lengthy process of gathering information and processing appeals.
Vessels and crew members who participate in the program would be expected to participate in a day of research for every day for which they received compensation. If vessel owners are not asked to participate in at-sea research, they will be required to supply socio-economic information, including tax returns for five years, so that managers will have more complete information regarding the economics of the commercial fishery.
"The program is a win-win proposal," said Pat Kurkul, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries' Northeast Region. "The fishermen get some relief now, and provide NOAA Fisheries managers with needed research and socio-economic data to help improve fisheries management and reduce the prospect of future stock declines."
Copies of the proposed rule will be available for review on Thursday, June 10. Comments can be addressed to Kevin Chu, NMFS, Water Street, Woods Hole, Mass. (telephone: 508 495-2367). At the close of the comment period, NOAA Fisheries will consider the comments and will write a final plan.