Commercial Fishery Disaster Assistance Page: 4 of 20
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Commercial Fishery Disaster Assistance
Disaster relief may be provided by the federal government to assist the fishing
industry when it is affected by a commercial fishery failure. A commercial fishery
failure occurs when fishermen endure hardships resulting from fish population
declines or other disruptions to the fishery. The Department of Commerce can
provide disaster assistance under either Section 308 of the Interjurisdictional
Fisheries Act (IFA; 16 U.S.C. 4107), as amended, or Section 312(a) of the
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA; 16
U.S.C 1861(a)). The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) plays a central
role in determining whether a disaster has occurred and in allocating federal funding
to states and affected fishing communities. Congress plays a pivotal role by
appropriating funds and providing oversight of the process.
Fisheries are subject to environmental variability that may affect the fishery
resource and/or commercial infrastructure such as boats, shoreside processing, and
market channels. Since 1994, federal fishery failures have been declared on 25
occasions and nearly $730 million in federal funding has been appropriated for
fishery disaster relief. Funds have been allocated to fisheries of the North Pacific,
Pacific Northwest, Gulf of Mexico, and the East Coast. Direct financial assistance
has been provided to fishermen and fishing communities in the form of grants, job
retraining, employment, and low interest loans. Assistance has also included fishery
data collection, research, and fishing capacity reduction programs to prevent or lessen
the effects of future disruptions to fisheries. Recent cases include Gulf of Mexico
fisheries in the wake of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the Chesapeake Bay blue crab
fishery, and the West Coast salmon troll fishery, where strict harvest limits were
imposed in response to declines of Sacramento River Chinook salmon. Several
issues related to fishery disaster relief include timing relief disbursements to meet
critical needs, integrating relief with long-term management objectives, defining and
declaring a fishery failure, and reaching people who may be in the greatest need of
Program Requirements and Procedures
The Department of Commerce can provide disaster assistance under either the
MSFCMA or the IFA.1 Differences exist under each law with regard to the causes
of a fishery failure, and the use of funds (see Table 1). Several recent fishery failures
have been declared under both laws, providing program managers greater latitude in
matching relief with the needs of recipients.
1 See the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fishery Disaster Assistance
website at [http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/mb/financial_services/disaster.htm].
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Commercial Fishery Disaster Assistance, report, November 10, 2008; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc816941/m1/4/: accessed June 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.