Even with debate over national debt the hot topic in our nation's capital these days, you've got to just shake your head sometimes while wondering what members of our House of Representatives are thinking. After the loss of 65,000 boats and devastation to the local fishing industry exceeding $150 million following Hurricane Sandy, Congress is considering a relief bill that largely ignores mid-Atlantic and Northeast fisherman, both recreational and commercial.
According to the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA; www.joinrfa.org), the House of Representatives is expected to take up a vote today on H.R. 152, a bill which would provide "supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013." Introduced in the House by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), H.R. 152 is the much debated and hotly contested disaster relief bill which would provide $17 billion in disaster relief specifically for relief from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
An amended version of H.R. 152 proposed by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) would increase this funding by $33.7 billion to bring the total closer to the earlier Senate version voted on in December calling for approximately $60 billion in total relief spending. Much like the Senate version of the package, Rep. Frelinghuysen's amendment is being opposed by many hard-line conservatives because it includes funding for longer-term recovery efforts and infrastructure improvements intended to help prevent damage caused by future disasters.
Regrettably for local fishermen impacted by the devastating effects of Sandy in late October, funding for the federally declared fisheries disaster in the New Jersey and New York region has been cut to a paltry $5 million for both states, monies which will have to be shared by both recreational and commercial fishing interests alike who were victims of the storm.
Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) executive director Jim Donofrio has sent a letter to the House Rules Committee seeking support for the Pallone amendment, as well as amendments offered by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Rep. Jon Runyan (R-NJ). The Runyan amendment approved by the committee clarifies that the $5 million in fisheries disaster money listed in the Frelinghuysen amendment is to be intended for states that were both impacted by Hurricane Sandy and suffered a fisheries disaster in 2012.
"We're looking at uninsurable loss to the recreational fishing industry alone in New York and New Jersey to easily top $150 million, with virtually no light at the end of the tunnel," Donofrio said. "I have to agree with Governor Christie, Congress needs to treat New Jersey and New York the same as other states like Mississippi and Louisiana, nothing more and nothing less."
Donofrio said the Frelinghuysen amendment includes $16 billion in community development grants which could be used to support small business owners, but he said the basic rule given to support fishermen as outlined in the Magnuson-Stevens Act has been completely ignored by the House. "In the wake of Katrina, there was $17.5 million in approved appropriations each of five years to support our fishing industry there, yet when it comes to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States and our coastal fishing industry, we see nothing but horrible partisanship in Congress."
"It's hard to believe that the House readily supports $150 million in regional ocean partnership grants in this legislation for ocean mapping which has nothing to do with jobs, yet our coastal fishing communities devastated by a natural disaster will be is given a paltry $5 million," continued Donofrio. "More fighting over NOAA scraps, same thing, new Congress, it's sickening."
Matt Tinning, Executive Director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network (www.conservefish.org/) noted that Sandy legislation that passed the Senate in December included $150 million for those devastated by fisheries disasters with potential beneficiaries including fishermen in New York and New Jersey whose livelihoods have been destroyed by Sandy. They also included those devastated by analogous disasters in Alaska, Mississippi and New England — all formally recognized by the Secretary of Commerce, and all caused by factors entirely outside fishermen’s control.
“The fishermen and coastal communities who are struggling to survive in the face of these disasters—not only in New Jersey and New York, but also New England, Mississippi and Alaska—need our help," stated Tinning in a MFCM press release. "Today, the House of Representatives slapped away their outstretched hands.”
Although the outcome looks grim for fishermen, the House vote is not the final step in the Sandy aid process. The Senate must either take up the House bill, or differences between the chambers must be reconciled.
For those of you still keeping score at home, we'll be sure to note the outcome once all the dust has settled.