Congress has finally passed a long-awaited supplemental appropriations bill to bring relief to those affected by Superstorm Sandy and to promote better preparedness for future disasters.
On top of the $9 billion agreed to in early January for direct flood insurance claims, the supplemental provides $50 billion for community rebuilding and future storm readiness, as well as a small amount in fisheries disaster relief. Despite a push from coastal Members to increase the fisheries funding, the final bill included only $5 million for communities affected by Sandy-related fisheries disasters—a far cry from the $150 million that the Senate originally approved in November.
Monday’s passage wraps up a months-long fight between the Senate and House largely over the bill’s price tag. The original Senate-approved bill totaled $64 billion, including funding for flood insurance, rebuilding, and the fisheries disaster relief, among other things.
The bill also stipulated that the $150 million in fisheries relief would be available for all fisheries disasters that the Commerce Secretary officially declared in 2012, not just those related to Sandy. These included the Northeast groundfish, Alaska pollock, and Mississippi oyster fisheries, each of which suffered from other natural disasters in 2012. The House balked at including non-Sandy-related relief, along with the overall cost, and ultimately punted the bill to the new Congress.
When the new Congress took up the bill on January 3, the fisheries disaster funding quickly became a target for elimination. Rep. Randy Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) proposed limiting the fisheries aid to $5 million, sparking outrage from colleagues who represent fishing communities along the Atlantic coast. Reps. Edward Markey (D-MA), John Tierney (D-MA), and others attempted to restore the fisheries aid to the Senate-passed level, but House Republicans opposed their efforts. In the end, the House agreed only to the $5 million, leaving it up to the Senate to decide whether to fight for additional funds. And despite opposition from a number of coastal Senators, the Senate agreed to the House-passed bill—including the $5 million in fisheries aid—in order to finalize the package and get the long-awaited relief to those in need.
Oceana supported this fishery disaster funding to support struggling fishing communities and to help coastal communities rebuild, provided that the funds do not facilitate activities that jeopardize ocean health. According to federal guidelines, fishery disaster funds can be used to repair or restore fishing equipment and infrastructure, compensate for losses, restore fisheries habitat, support workforce education, provide low-interest loans, and conduct monitoring and cooperative research focused on improving stock assessments. They cannot be used to support activities that would jeopardize the health of the fisheries.
Whether impacted by a natural disaster like Superstorm Sandy or some other destructive natural phenomenon, these monies are an important means of support for struggling communities and can help them better prepare for future emergencies. While we were disappointed that Congress did not appropriate more money for fisheries disasters, we applaud the inclusion of the $5 million for the Northeast. We hope it will provide some relief, however minimal, and help affected communities rebuild.