Andrew Cuomo pushes for fishing relief funds

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during the NEw York State Democratic Delegation Breakfast event in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Sept. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in a letter to members of Congress who control the purse strings for federal disaster aid, urged lawmakers to "act swiftly" in appropriating relief funds for New York commercial fishermen following a disaster declaration for Northeast fishing grounds.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued the disaster declaration for those who make their living trawling for groundfish in Northeast ocean waters based on data that showed "several key fish stocks are not rebuilding."

"After reviewing the information available on the potential catch limits for the 2013 fishing year, I am deeply concerned about the potential impacts to Northeast fishermen and fishing communities," wrote Rebecca Blank, acting secretary of Commerce.

Cuomo was among six Northeast governors who received letters from the department alerting them of the disaster declaration, which takes effect next May.

Regulators and fishermen anticipate sharp reductions in fishing quotas that will be enacted next year to boost populations of groundfish such as cod, yellowtail flounder and winter flounder.

New York fishermen have been banned from taking winter flounder in southern New England waters since 2009.

"Funding will ensure our Long Island fishing industry benefits from efforts to protect our fishermen and -women, and supports the rebuilding of key fish stocks," Cuomo wrote to Senate and House chairmen and ranking members on appropriations committees, who will make funding decisions.

From his trawler, the Illusion, on New England fishing grounds this week, Greenport fisherman Mark Phillips said while he opposes the concept of a bailout, he has urged New York lawmakers to make sure the state's fishermen are not excluded from disaster relief, as, he said, they have been before.

"Personally I'm against the bailout money, but it's very hard to be put at a disadvantage to other boats, when they are getting money and I am not," he said.

Phillips said he believes any disaster-relief funds should be used to address "the failed policies and the science" at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees federal fisheries management.

"If the bailout money comes it should be used to fund cooperative research and observer coverage, both of which . . . [have been] gutted" under a new fisheries-management system called catch shares, he said.

Phillips said that under a new catch-shares program instituted two years ago, his allowable annual quota for yellowtail flounder dropped from 50,000 pounds three years ago, to 11,000 pounds this year.

"We've taken a 90 percent hit from when they started catch shares," he said.

The program allots a portion of the total allowable quota to fishermen or fishing cooperatives, based primarily on their landing history in a fishery.

Phillips said he expects his yellowtail allocation to drop to around 4,000 pounds next year. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who along with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) sought the declaration, said he would fight for New York's portion of an anticipated $100 million relief package. "This is an industry that has bipartisan support across the country and both parties must work together to provide the necessary funding to help this vital industry thrive," he said.

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