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Sheldon W.
Democrat RI

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  • Fisheries Disaster Funding

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

    Posted on 2013-01-28

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    WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I very much appreciate the remarks of my friend, the Senator from Alaska. This is truly a bipartisan concern. There are Senators on both sides who feel very aggrieved by what took place, Senators from Alaska and Maine, on the two sides of the country, and a great number of us.

    The sheet that rests on the front table during the votes to make sure people coming in know what the current measure is describes the last vote as passage of H.R. 152, the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013--not the Hurricane Sandy Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 but the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act.

    We have had a disaster. We didn't make this up. This wasn't something that was snuck into the bill or we tried to do an earmark on.

    The Governors of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut--six Governors petitioned the government for a fisheries disaster declaration, and they received one. The Secretary of Commerce declared the New England Multispecies Groundfish Fishery disaster. The Senator from Alaska described it as a drought.

    It is like a drought. What has happened in our waters is that they have warmed. They have had some chemical changes. Fisheries have moved northward, and some of them have moved clean out of the U.S. continental waters. The result is that Georges Bank cod, Yellowtail flounder, Gulf of Maine cod and haddock have all had to face Draconian catch reductions to try to keep those species alive.

    We have a fishing tradition that goes back even longer than Alaska's, I will guess. Certainly, we started fishing back in the 17th century, the 1600s, in Rhode Island. It is a long tradition. But the changes we are wreaking on this planet are moving the fish around. They are creating these localized disasters for our fishermen who have worked hard all their lives, who have invested their life savings into expensive boats they have to take care of, the maintenance and the repair, and they risk their health and their lives and their limbs out at sea in all kinds of weather in order to bring in the catch to us. When the catch isn't there, it is a disaster.

    This is what the Governors have asked for, all six of them. That is what the U.S. Government, through the Secretary of Commerce, declared. Why on Earth the fisheries disaster that affects our fishermen doesn't matter--$150 million; it was not a big piece in a $60 billion bill. Yet we were left out. We were completely left out.

    I will continue to fight to get this done. I think there has been a wrong committed in this body, and I intend to make sure it gets righted. I will work hard with the Senator from Alaska. I see the Senator from New Hampshire, who is equally affected by this, on the Senate floor. It makes no sense to let people in the House of Representatives pick and choose among disasters in a bill and strip out disasters that have been declared by the U.S. Government and the Governors of six States.

    Do they know better? I don't think so. But they took it out. For whatever reason, we weren't able to get it in back here. I have had strong conversations with some of the lead supporters of the Sandy bill and the States that most benefit, with the chairman of the committee and the floor manager of the bill and with colleagues from nearby States. This is not over, but I am extremely upset that we would pass something called a Disaster Relief Appropriations Act and leave out of it the disaster that has befallen fisheries up and down the east coast, from Maine down through New Hampshire, through Massachusetts, through Rhode Island, through Connecticut and New York. That is a pretty wide- scale disaster.

    For the men and the women who go out and put their boats and themselves at risk for this catch when it is not there, you bet it is a disaster. It is just as much of a disaster as a farmer who looks out at parched fields and can't grow what he needs to grow. We are not there for them, not when it is fishermen, for some reason. We are not there for them. We have done it over and over. Since 1994 Federal fishery failures have been declared on 29 different occasions, and nearly $827 million has been appropriated for relief. But not now. For some reason, not now.

    I yield now for the Senator from New Hampshire, who I know feels strongly about this issue. The Senator from Massachusetts was speaking with me earlier. She feels very strongly about this, and we need to get this set right. This is a day for celebration in some quarters but not in all.

    For those of us who have a responsibility to the men and women who have fished the waters off of our States, this is not an acceptable result.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from New Hampshire.

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