Wednesday, Representatives Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03) led the introduction of the Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act (Fishery FUNDD Act), which aims to improve the federal fishery disaster process and ensure more timely disaster relief for impacted communities.
The Fishery FUNDD Act would set a timeline for the federal government to respond to a fishery disaster request and set a timeline for disbursal of appropriated funds following a disaster. It will also clarify the disaster request process, including by allowing direct payments to be made to affected members of fishing communities as an eligible use of relief funds.
“In Washington, our coastal fisheries are an essential part of our local economies. In recent years, multiple disasters on our coasts have wreaked havoc on our fisheries and on the finances of the people who rely on them to make a living,” said Rep. Kilmer. “This bipartisan bill will expand eligibility for disaster funds so charter boat operators, processors, and other fishing related businesses that are impacted can get access to these critical relief and recovery funds. Importantly, because delays can damage communities, this bill will also increase accountability, ensuring that when the federal government commits to helping in the wake of disaster, our tribal, commercial, and recreational fishing communities see these relief and recovery funds on time and in full.”
“When a disaster strikes that causes severe economic hardships on fishing businesses in Pacific County, we need to ensure relief is getting to those who need it as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Herrera Beutler. “When relief is delayed, the costs to citizens’ livelihoods and government only increase. I’m pleased to help offer this bipartisan solution to ensure financial assistance is delivered more quickly to those charter boat businesses and other fishing-dependent entities.”
“Fishing is the way of life for many here on the coast,” said Butch Smith, a third-generation salmon and sturgeon fishing charter captain who serves as the Ilwaco Port Commissioner. “When disaster strikes, like it has in recent years, we need to know that the federal government has our backs. This bill will help ensure that our communities get the recovery and the relief funds they need when the going gets tough – and hold the federal government to its word. I’m glad to see Washington Representatives like Rep. Kilmer and Rep. Herrera Beutler leading the charge to ensure that happens.”
“The failure of a fishing season is devastating to fishermen and their communities, but in recent years, the poor performance of our fishery disaster assistance program has itself become a disaster,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Fishery disasters impact port communities, but they also harm the broader economy and limit Americans’ access to domestic seafood. This important bill will enhance our commercial fishing safety net, ensuring that fishery disaster assistance reaches communities in need in months instead of years.”
Under current law, fishing communities can receive federal financial assistance when fish populations decline, during closed seasons, or if other disruptions cause economic losses. However, the current disaster relief process has been slow to respond to requests and has failed to allocate funds to all impacted sectors of the industry. The Fishery FUNDD Act clarifies the process and implements timelines for faster delivery of disaster relief to impacted communities.
Specifically, the bill:
- Maintains the authority of the Secretary of Commerce to determine fishery disasters;
- Specifies required information for disaster requests, guidelines for evaluation of requests, and required information for spend plans;
- Specifies criteria for determinations based on revenue loss and includes consideration of impacts on charter fishing and subsistence uses;
- Sets a 120-day timeline for the Secretary to evaluate a request, either upon receipt or immediately after the close of the fishery season, and sets a 90-day timeline for disbursal of appropriated funds after completed spend plans are submitted;
- Specifies the eligible uses of fishery disaster relief funds, including direct payments to affected members of the fishing community, habitat restoration and conservation, management improvements, job training, public information campaigns, and preventative measures for future disasters, and would prioritize hiring fishermen displaced by the fishery disaster for this work;
- Requires the Department of Commerce to make a request in its annual budget for outstanding, unfunded fishery disasters and requires a GAO report on how fishery managers are preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change, a major factor in recent fishery disasters; and,
- Consolidates the legal framework for the federal fishery disaster declaration process under the Magnuson Stevens Act
- Authorizes appropriations as necessary, including supplemental appropriations.
Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-02) and Rep. Steven Palazzo (MS-04) also serve as original cosponsors of the legislation and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced similar legislation that was approved by the Senate Commerce committee in late 2019. The text of the House legislation, numbered H.R. 5548, can be found here.
For years, Reps. Kilmer and Herrera Beutler have worked persistently with Washington’s U.S. Senators to secure fishery disaster funds in Congress’s spending plans – and did so successfully in February 2018, securing $200 million in supplemental funding to support multiple commercial and tribal fishery disaster declarations in Washington, Alaska and California as part of the government funding plan passed by the Senate and House. The relief funding was intended to support investments that will encourage fishery recovery and job training, among other initiatives.