Feds declare New England fishery a ‘disaster’

Newport lobsterman Bob Braman pulls a trap. Newport lobsterman Bob Braman pulls a trap.

Fishermen have known it for years, and now the federal government agreees: The New England fishery is a disaster.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has issued a disaster declaration for the New England groundfish fishery, clearing the way for fishermen to receive financial relief in the face of regulations that have pushed many to the brink of bankruptcy.

The declaration will prompt Congress to provide emergency financial relief for New England fishermen impacted by cuts to fishing quotas for several commercially important species, including cod, haddock and yellowtail flounder. It comes as a result of a letter Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee sent last month to Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, requesting a disaster declaration under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“The fishermen participating in the fishery have been complying with the regulations, and there is every reason to believe that they will continue doing so,” Governor Chafee wrote. “But such compliance is increasingly resulting in significant financial hardships, which many are unable to bear. It therefore stands to reason that those destined to suffer the most under the looming cuts should be afforded some measure of relief.”

“I am concerned that the economic fallout may push a number of businesses past the brink,” Governor Chafee continued. “The commercial fishing industry is one of Rhode Island’s premier economic assets, and we must work to bolster it. This emergency relief, therefore, is important for both our local economy and the health of our waters. These badly needed funds will prevent Rhode Island commercial fishing businesses from suffering devastating losses, and I applaud the Obama Administration for recognizing this need and taking quick action.”

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