Sep 09 2005

COMMERCE SECRETARY RESPONDS TO LETTER FROM SENATORS

WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) expressed concerns to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez regarding the effects of Hurricane Katrina on commercial fishermen, shrimpers and oystermen in the Gulf of Mexico. In a letter to Secretary Gutierrez yesterday, Senator Shelby and fifteen other Senators asked the Commerce Department to declare a commercial fisheries failure and begin the process of delivering financial assistance to the impacted Gulf Coast commercial fishing industry.

Senator Shelby was pleased that Secretary Gutierrez responded to their letter by announcing today that he has made a determination that a commercial fishery failure and a fishery resource disaster within the meanings of Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and Section 308(b) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act have begun in the Gulf of Mexico’s commercial fisheries. This declaration is for the commercial fisheries off the Florida Keys and the north-central Gulf of Mexico, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Senator Shelby said, “I am pleased that Secretary Gutierrez made this declaration that will enable fisheries to have access to timely relief in this difficult and uncertain time. It will take months, if not years, to overcome the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on our coastal communities and our state, but I am hopeful that today’s announcement will help us begin to restore the Gulf State’s fishing and processing infrastructure.

Senator Shelby's letter to Secretary Gutierrez is attached:

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Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez
U.S. Department of Commerce
14th and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Mr. Secretary:

As our nation struggles to come to grips with the economic and environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina, we must not overlook the devastating effects that this natural disaster is having on commercial fishermen, shrimpers, and oystermen in the Gulf of Mexico. We ask you to declare a commercial fishery failure for these fisheries, as authorized under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and Section 308(b) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act in cases of natural disaster, so that forthcoming federal assistance can be made available to affected states.

We understand that the Department of Commerce is still in the early stages of assessing the damage done to fish stocks, coastal and marine ecosystems, fishing vessels, and port infrastructure; therefore, the full range of economic and environmental impacts is unknown at this time. Nevertheless, we have ample evidence that many commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico – which supplies 30 percent of the nation’s seafood and produced landings worth $686 million in 2003 – have been destroyed. Countless fishing vessels and shoreside facilities have been leveled or damaged beyond repair, just as fishermen approach what would have been the height of the season. At the same time, millions of acres of marshes, wetlands, and estuary habitats that are essential for commercially valuable stocks has disappeared, and what remains of these areas is covered by toxic sludge and other devastating pollutants.

Clearly, our Gulf of Mexico fisheries face a troubling and highly uncertain future, with some reports indicating that it may take 18 months or more to restore parts of this industry. The commercial fishermen, shrimpers, and oystermen cannot wait this long to begin receiving some form of federal financial assistance. Declaring a commercial fisheries failure will begin the process of delivering financial assistance to the impacted Gulf Coast commercial fishing industry.

Thank you for considering our request.

Senator Richard Shelby
Senator Jeff Sessions
Senator Trent Lott
Senator Mary Landrieu
Senator David Vitter
Senator Thad Cochran
Senator John Cornyn
Senator Bill Nelson
Senator Ted Stevens
Senator Barbara Boxer
Senator John Kerry
Senator Mel Martinez
Senator Frank Lautenberg
Senator Olympia Snowe
Senator Daniel Inouye
Senator Maria Cantwell