The first federal budget agreement in nearly five years, approved by Congress last week, includes $75 million in disaster relief for segments of the commercial fishing industry still reeling from recent stock collapses and regulatory controls that have slashed incomes for those harvesting wild seafood species.
A portion of that funding will go to compensate commercial fishermen in the Northeast for losses in profits after the allowable harvest of several species of “groundfish” were cut deeply last year, and for the foreseeable future. It is not yet known how much of the funding will go to the Northeast fishermen specifically or how much, if any, will be made available for New York fishermen.
“How much is actually going to be doled out to Northeast fishermen and to New York is still being worked out,” said Angie Hu, an aide to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “They will be looking at operational costs, direct financial assistance to fishermen and economic development programs.”
Most of the money is expected to go directly to the fishermen who have traditionally participated in the fishery for the 13 species of groundfish, which includes cod and flounder, and be divvied up generally according to the extent each will lose from their incomes because of harvest restrictions. The $75 million in funding is part of the $1.1 trillion federal budget approved earlier this month.
While Montauk was once the third largest groundfish port in the Northeast, the collapse of the cod fishery in the 1990s drove most local boats to turn their attention to other species. But Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said she does not expect New York fishermen to get a particularly sizable share of the funding. Still, she hopes that when the pie is cut, Montauk’s calculated losses will be based on something more representative than just the last couple years of landings.
“Our guys have luckily had the option to utilize other fisheries—there are guys in Gloucester [Massachusetts] who all they do is groundfish,” said Ms. Brady, who applauded the work of New York’s federal representatives on fisheries issues. “All the same, we have guys who were catching hundreds of thousands of pounds a year that were reduced to a couple hundred pounds a year. It would make sense to me if they would go back to when catch shares were instituted to show who in different states were utilizing the groundfish fishery.”
The severe cuts to the harvest of cod, and several other species whose harvest could potentially lead to overharvesting of cod, came on the heels of scientific findings that their populations in the Gulf of Maine had taken a nosedive in recent years, after several years of showing signs of recovery from overfishing in the latter half of the 20th century.