Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Scott Brown (R-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the “Fisheries Investment and Regulatory Relief Act (FIRRA) of 2012” (S. 2814) on March 12. Companion bill in the House by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Frank Guinta (R-NH). This bill would invest in the management of America’s fisheries by providing a dedicated funding source. The legislation would redirect existing duties on imported fish and fish products to programs that will protect and increase the value of America’s ocean fish and the jobs they support.
This new legislation would re-direct existing revenues from duties on imported fish products (estimated at $124 million for FY 2013) to support critical research, monitoring, and management programs, as well as provide assistance to fishermen and fishing communities.
This bill would create a regionally-based grant program that would direct 70 percent of the money (approximately $85 million in FY 2013) per year to fund fisheries research and management programs. The councils would establish investment committees responsible for identifying funding priorities and making recommendations on which specific projects should be supported in each region.
FIRRA: A POTENTIAL INVESTMENT OF OVER $100 MILLION PER YEAR IN AMERICA’S FISHERIES
Based on the President’s FY 2013 budget, the FIRRA would receive $124 million next year, which would be allocated as follows:
- $40.8 million total to the regional fishery management councils – $5.1 million per council.
- $40.8 million proportionally to the councils based on economic impacts of commercial and recreational fishing in the region.
- $23.3 million to NOAA for transfer to the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific interstate fisheries commissions; for programs to promote U.S. seafood; to improve fisheries management through research and monitoring; for disaster relief and to improve shore-side infrastructure; and for special needs including management of highly migratory species.
- $11.7 million to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for its Operations, Research, and Facilities account.
- $7.4 million half split equally among the regional fishery management councils and half to NOAA for program administration.
What kinds of programs would be eligible for funding?
- Stock assessments and surveys
- Cooperative research involving fishermen, academic institutions and federal scientists
- Data collection for recreational fisheries
- Testing and deployment of environmentally friendly fishing gear
- Dockside, at sea, and electronic monitoring and reporting of commercial and recreational catch
- Assistance to and investments in fishermen and fishing communities through permit banks, marketing, and other activities to help sustain fishing communities
- Social and economic research
- Habitat restoration and protection
- Development of technologies and methods that improve the quality of fish landed
How would this bill ensure that fishermen and coastal communities benefit?
FIRRA would direct the regional fishery management councils to establish fishery investment committees comprised of commercial and recreational fishing interests; representatives from relevant local, state, federal and tribal (where applicable) agencies and interstate commissions; academic institutions; and representatives of the public with knowledge of the region’s fisheries issues. These committees would develop regional fishery investment plans grounded in the specific management and research needs of each region. Funding decisions would be based on the priorities outlined in each plan.
How would grant funds be invested?
The Secretary of Commerce would administer the grant program for the eight fishery management councils. Each of the councils’ fishery investment committees would review and make recommendations on which grant proposals to fund based on the priorities of their regional fishery investment plans, with final approval provided by the relevant regional council and the Secretary.
What else would the bill do to promote healthy fish populations and fishing businesses?
In addition to the regional grant program, funds would be available to support special fisheries needs and problems including management of highly migratory species, seafood promotion, mitigating fisheries disasters, regional fisheries commissions, and general National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operations (capped at 10 percent).
How would funds be allocated?
Funds for this bill would be derived from the 1954 Saltonstall-Kennedy Act (S-K Act), which was originally intended to promote the U.S. seafood industry and is capitalized through annual transfers of 30 percent of the gross duties on imported fish and fish products. Over the past three decades, 88 percent of these funds have been diverted into NOAA’s general operating account.
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