Florida Delegation Wants Commerce Department to Quickly Distribute Stimulus Funds for Fishing Industry

The Florida delegation on Capitol Hill is urging the U.S. Commerce Department to quickly move to distribute funds from the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus enacted at the end of last month to help the fishing business.

As part of the stimulus package, $300 million was included to help fisheries and Florida’s two senators–Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott–and 25 of the state’s 27 members of the U.S. House sent a letter to U.S. Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross on the matter on Wednesday.

“Florida’s recreational and commercial fishing industries are critically important to Florida’s tourism-based economy, as well as for the state and nation’s food security and have been hit especially hard during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rubio’s office noted.

The Florida delegation also called on Ross to work U.S. Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue “ to expand seafood commodity purchases for nutrition programs, take further action to guide Florida’s fishing communities to new resources such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and expedite consideration of the State of Florida’s pending Fisheries Disaster Declaration request related to severe red tide events which occurred between 2015 and 2019.”

Besides the two senators, other members of the delegation who wrote Ross on the matter include U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., Kathy Castor, D-Fla., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Val Demings, D-Fla., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Neal Dunn, R-Fla., Lois Frankel, D-Fla., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Bill Posey, R-Fla., Francis Rooney, R-Fla., John Rutherford, R-Fla., Greg Steube, R-Fla., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Dan Webster, R-Fla., Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla.

U.S. Reps. Al Lawson, D-Fla., and Ross Spano, R-Fla., were the only members of the delegation not to sign the letter.

“As the nation responds to mitigate the economic impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we urgently ask that you provide immediate relief to Florida’s fishing and seafood industry,” the Florida delegation wrote Ross. “Florida’s fishing industries have experienced several crises in recent years. Impacts from Hurricanes Irma and Michael, major fish kills caused by harmful algal blooms, significant habitat loss in the Florida Reef Tract due to coral bleaching and disease, and massive seagrass die offs in many of our state’s estuaries have taken their toll. Even for those businesses who have endured these events, the economic crisis we face today as a result of the pandemic may prove fatal without your assistance.

“With more than 1,300 miles of coastline and world class fisheries, Florida is widely regarded as the fishing capital of the world. Across our state, those fishermen and businesses who helped Florida earn that title are selling off their last catches for pennies on the dollar and docking their vessels indefinitely, some fear permanently. The cascading effect of losing this vital supply chain would be immense. The secondary seafood processers, restaurants, fish markets, and grocery stores that prepare, process, and sell fresh, locally-sourced seafood across the country and to Florida’s 21 million residents, would no longer have reliable product sources. Unfortunately, this pandemic has caused many to face the very real threat of going out of business. A collapse of these industries would be extremely harmful to those families and communities that depend on them, to Florida’s tourism industry, and to Florida’s trillion-dollar economy as a whole. But it would also be felt when this nation overcomes the pandemic, and the seafood supply is no longer able to meet demand,” the delegation added.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act appropriated $300 million in emergency funding for the Department of Commerce to provide assistance, such as direct relief payments to fishery participants, including ‘Tribes, persons, fishing communities, aquaculture businesses… processors, or other fishery related businesses’ who have experienced economic losses as a result of the pandemic. We ask that you work expeditiously to provide guidance with regard to the disbursement of these funds, taking into account the full range of sectors harmed by this crisis. Additionally, existing law authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to work with the Secretary of Commerce to undertake market stabilization commodity purchases for food-producing fishing industries. We urge you to coordinate with Secretary Perdue to utilize this authority to ease the burden this crisis has placed upon our commercial fishing industry. We also urge you to continue coordinating with the Small Business Administration, the Treasury Department, Regional Fishery Management Councils, and other stakeholders to guide fishing and seafood businesses to the relief available under the Paycheck Protection Program. Finally, we urge you to expedite consideration of the State of Florida’s pending Fisheries Disaster Declaration request concerning red tide events between 2015 and 2019, which took a devastating toll on our ecosystems,” the delegation continued.

“We look forward to working with you to ensure that Florida’s fishing industries can continue to supply our nation with the very best seafood,” the delegation wrote in conclusion.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), National Association of Charterboat Operators (NACO), Southern Offshore Fishing Association (SOFA), Charter Fisherman’s Association (CFA), the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) threw their support behind the Florida delegation’s request.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

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