The second disbursement of $8.3 million in fishing disaster funds has stalled at NOAA headquarters in Maryland, prompting a letter from some members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation seeking the release of the funds.
The letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, dated Dec. 5, asks for Pritzker’s help in releasing the funds before the end of the calendar year. NOAA Fisheries falls under the purview of Pritzker and the Commerce Department.
“The ongoing groundfish disaster has had a huge economic impact on fishing families and communities in Massachusetts,” said the letter signed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, as well as Rep. William Keating, D-New Bedford. “In many cases, the financial hardship is now acute.”
On Oct. 24, the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries submitted the state’s grant application to NOAA Fisheries for the $8.3 million in state-specific grants included in the second installment of fishery disaster financial aid.
Massachusetts received $14.8 million from the $75 million in fishery disaster funds Congress allocated in January. Beginning in August, the state distributed the $6.5 million contained in the first phase, paying $32,500 each to about 200 federal permit holders in Massachusetts.
The DMF application for the second phase of funding includes about $3 million for an expanded group of federal permit holders and another $3 million that represents the first direct assistance to crew members.
If approved by NOAA, the state would disperse about $800,000 to help charter and party boat operations, $750,000 to assist impacted shore-side businesses and about $300,000 to assist groundfish sector administrations with staff and support-service expenses.
Testy time frame
Mary Griffin, commissioner of the state Department of Fish and Game, had hoped the state would be able to begin distributing the second-phase funds before the end of 2014.
On Sunday, while attending the annual meeting of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, Griffin conceded it will be difficult at this late date to meet that initial goal.
The letter from Warren, Markey and Keating also addressed the recent emergency measures that will effectively shutter the Gulf of Maine to all cod fishing for the rest of this fishing season, as well as much, if not all, of the 2015 season that begins next May 1.
“The recent emergency measures put in place by NOAA that will further restrict the allowable catch of cod in the Gulf of Maine, and will therefore impact the catch of other associated groundfish, underscore the continued need for support of the Massachusetts fishing industry,” the members of the Massachusetts delegation wrote.