June 24, 2018
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Call for Northeast fisheries disaster declaration gathers momentum

By Whit Richardson, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — New York and Rhode Island have joined Maine and two other New England states in calling on the federal government to issue a disaster declaration for the Northeast groundfishery.

Maine’s congressional delegation says a declaration is in the works.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee requested on Friday that the Department of Commerce declare a fisheries disaster, while New York’s congressional delegation sent a similar letter on Tuesday.

Gov. Paul LePage last November sent a letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson, requesting that he “declare the Northeast multispecies fishery a failure.” That was followed shortly by a similar letter from Maine’s congressional delegation.

The number of Maine groundfish boats with revenue from at least one groundfishing trip decreased by 33 percent, from 63 vessels to 42 vessels, between 2009 and 2010, according to the governor’s letter.

Willy Ritch, a spokesman for Rep. Chellie Pingree, told the Bangor Daily News that he was “confident” a declaration would be made.

“We expect there will be a decision coming fairly soon, but we haven’t seen any language,” Ritch said.

A spokesman for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on Monday also hinted that the administration was working on a draft declaration, according to the Gloucester Times. Massachusetts’ congressional delegation sent a request for a disaster declaration to the Department of Commerce earlier this month.

In a statement to the BDN, Sen. Olympia Snowe on Wednesday reiterated her concern for struggling Maine fishermen, citing “significant reductions in catch limits” and “rising costs from diesel fuel and additional travel to local fish stocks.”

“It is long past time for the federal government to recognize their hardship by declaring a disaster declaration for the New England multispecies groundfishery, and I continue to urge the Department of Commerce to make such an announcement,” Sen. Snowe said. “The Maine delegation spoke with one voice last November on this issue, and I again reiterated that call in April, and the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York have joined us as the urgency has only grown.”

John Bullard, NOAA Fisheries Service’s new regional administrator for the Northeast region, is visiting Maine this week to hear from fishermen about their experiences. He was in Portland on Tuesday and is scheduled to be in Ellsworth on Thursday.

Sen. Snowe said she hopes Bullard “heard from our state’s fishermen, and that he will relay that message to Washington.”

Ritch, from Rep. Pingree’s office, said a fisheries declaration is only the first step. Congress would still need to appropriate the money, “so it actually means something,” he said.

But it’s not just a check that Maine fishermen want, they want help improving their methods and creating a sustainable fishery, he said. “The way that assistance is rendered is important.”

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