Federal government pledges nearly $33 million to aid Maine, northeastern groundfishermen

Susan Collins
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Susan Collins
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 26, 2014, at 3:02 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has allocated $32.8 million to help Maine and other northeastern U.S. groundfishermen struggling in an industry that for 2013 was declared a federal disaster.

Additionally, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is expected to waive a 25 percent match required to trigger the federal aid, relieving Maine and its neighboring states of having to come up with $8.2 million in funds in order to receive the help.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced reduced catch limits of up to 73 percent for cod, haddock, yellowtail flounder and other groundfish species that took effect May 1, 2013, because federal scientists found that depleted fish stocks in the region were not replenishing at a healthy pace.

“Maine fishermen have been hit hard by groundfish closures and drastically reduced quotas,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, in a statement. “If this money is spent wisely, it could go a long way toward the survival of Maine’s fishing communities. There’s a lot of work to be done but I know Maine’s fishermen have some creative ideas that could help keep the industry going.”

Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, said his group’s members “really appreciate” the aid and the work done by the state’s congressional delegation to secure it.

“This disaster relief has the potential to provide the Maine fishing industry with a chance to build toward a more productive and sustainable future and we look forward to working with Rep. Pingree on the long road ahead,” he said in a statement.

“I am pleased that NOAA will deliver economic assistance to Maine’s fishermen who have struggled in recent years to cope with burdensome federal regulations and nearly-exhausted fish stocks. I also welcome Secretary Pritzker’s announcement that she will waive the state match requirement, which posed a serious obstacle to providing this much-needed relief,” U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in a statement. “Fishing is not only a cornerstone of Maine’s economy, but it’s vital to supporting the livelihoods of many Mainers. I look forward to working with the Maine Department of Marine Resources to see that Maine receives its share of the federal assistance as we strive to achieve a healthy and sustainable groundfishery.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Maine fishermen, their families and communities “have struggled with onerous federal regulations and other burdensome costs … for too long.”

“I was pleased to have secured Fisheries Disaster Assistance in the federal funding bill approved by Congress in January, which can be used to provide both immediate economic relief to our region’s struggling groundfishing industry, and to make targeted investments that will allow the fleet to survive and become more sustainable in the years ahead,” Collins, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “I also applaud the decision to waive the non-federal matching requirement which would have placed an unnecessary burden on our state and local economies.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said the NOAA aid was “long overdue.”

“Maine’s fishing industry continues to feel the pain of difficult stock conditions and strict annual catch limits. I’ve been proud to stand with the New England delegation to push for relief for those affected by a very difficult few years at sea,” Michaud said in a statement. “It is my hope that this assistance will quickly be distributed in a way that provides measurable relief to Maine fishermen, our fishing industry, and the communities that rely on them.”

BDN staff reporter Bill Trotter contributed to this story.

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/02/26/business/federal-government-pledges-nearly-33-million-to-aid-maine-northeastern-groundfishermen/ printed on July 24, 2014