Commerce Secretary approves disaster assistance for California, other fisheries

Federal department determined commercial fisheries in several states failed between 2017 and 2019.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration’s Commerce Secretary, determined multiple commercial fisheries experienced failures in California between 2017 and 2019. Similar commercial fishery failures also occurred in Alaska, Georgia and South Carolina, according to a statement released by Ross.

Details of the failures were not mentioned in Ross’s statement. He also added regional fisheries experienced catastrophic disasters in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi due to extreme flooding events in the Gulf of Mexico.

The catastrophe and failure declaration means fisheries in these states are now eligible for disaster assistance; California’s commercial fisheries identified by Ross, for example, could apply for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) funding.

Congress allocated $165 million for fishery disasters for Fiscal Year 2019, according to Ross.

“Fishing is the cornerstone of countless coastal economies and has been a way of life for generations of Americans,” Ross said. “This determination acknowledges the critical role fisheries play in our communities, and the risks they face from natural disasters and other causes beyond their control.”

Ross stated his declaration was essential to maintain the economic value of fisheries.

“Fisheries help power coastal economies, providing jobs for fishermen, fish processors, and other maritime industries,” Ross’s disaster declaration statement read. “However, these key resources can also be vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters and other circumstances beyond the control of fishermen and fishery managers that can cause sudden and unexpected losses, leading to devastating impacts to businesses and the surrounding communities.”

California’s Pacific sardine fishery was one of the fisheries experiencing an economic disaster between 2017 and 2019, according to a letter sent from Gov. Gavin Newsom to Ross on June 28.

“Sardine is historically one of the top ten highest valued commercial fisheries in California. Statewide, the commercial sardine closure in 2017 resulted in a total ex­ vessel value of $61,453, which is 96 percent less than the 2012-2016 average of $1,652,800,” Newsom wrote in his letter to Ross. “In 2018 the closure resulted in a total ex-vessel value of only $77,458, which is 90 percent less than the 2013-2017 average of $800,857.

“Preliminary Pacific Sardine landings information from 2019 currently shows a total ex-vessel value of $62,292, which is 82 percent less than the 2014-2018 average of $346,691,” Newsom’s letter continued.

Newsom added federal assistance is necessary to help the Pacific sardine fishery rebound and maintain its role as a major economic driver in California.

“Pacific Sardine is a vital component of California’s natural resources and provides significant aesthetic, recreational, commercial, cultural, and economic benefits to our state. Economic assistance will be critical for the well being of our fishing industry and our state,” Newsom wrote in his letter.

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