During a Sept. 25 hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senators Roger Wicker, R- Miss., chairman, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., ranking member, voiced concerns for the importance of responding to fisheries disasters and pushed for reforms.
Wicker said he welcomed news from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of approval of a federal fishery disaster declaration and relief process for Mississippi, “but problems remain with the fisheries disasters declaration process. Our fishermen deserve more timely consideration and relief,” he said.
“In Washington, fisheries are a cornerstone of our maritime economy,” Cantwell said. “Its related businesses and seafood processors, ship builders, gear manufacturers, support 60 percent of our maritime economy, which is about 146,000 jobs and $30 billion in economic activity.”
Cantwell spoke of the importance of fisheries and particularly of the 2016 salmon fishery disaster, which impacted fisheries across the state. “Washington has experienced 17 fishery disasters since 1992 including crab, groundfish and salmon,” she said. “Unfortunately, the fisheries disaster process has become more burdensome, and has resulted in less funding and lengthy delays, putting an unnecessary burden on fishermen and fishing communities.”
“The coho disaster impacted tribes, commercial fishermen, charter and recreational fishermen, but not all groups received adequate funding from NOAA,” Cantwell wrote.
Commercial fishermen in Alaska hard hit by the 2016 Prince William Sound pink salmon disaster are still waiting for compensation under the promised disaster relief.
“[NOAA] need to address the timeliness in facilitating these disasters, but they need some clarifying parameters,” said Alaska Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “They need to involve stakeholders. They did not involve the fishermen” (in determining the formula for payment in the 2016 pink salmon disaster). “Without stakeholder input that’s how the formula got screwed up. They need to make sure that the people affected are appropriately compensated. If not then it needs to be an even distribution across the board,” she said.
The current application period for those impacted by the Prince William Sound 2016 disaster is Oct. 31, 2019. The amount of time it has taken for those impacted to get paid “is almost criminal,” she said. “There is no excuse for it.”