Hurricane Sandy devastated many parts of the U.S., specifically the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions. On December 28, 2012 the Senate approved the Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Assistance. This supplemental bill responds to Hurricane Sandy, as well as to other natural disasters that have occurred over the past year.[1] On January 2nd, 2013 the House Republican leadership refused to take up the Disaster Assistance Supplemental Appropriations bill. The bill will be discusses again mid-January.

The bill allocates $373,000,000 to remain available until September 30, 2014, of which $150,000,000 is allocated for necessary expenses related to fishery disasters as declared by the Secretary of Commerce in calendar year 2012. This allocation is conditional on two matters: first, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shall submit a spending plan to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate within 45 days after the date of enactment of the proposed Act; and second, that such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency.

On September 13, 2012, the acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank issued fishery disaster determinations in the Northeast, Alaska, and Mississippi. Further, NOAA stated that it “will work closely with Congress and the states to develop plans to preserve coastal communities”.[2]

The declaration by Secretary Blank[3]describes two broad disasters; namely, the effects of Hurricane Sandy on the fishery, as well as declining fish stocks of some species. The declining fish stocks will mean an anticipated decline in the Total Allowable Catch. Although the declining fish stock is a natural resource disaster, it is nevertheless separate from Hurricane Sandy’s effect and has nothing to do with it.  If this fund is to be allocated for both purposes, then one would expect that a portion would be utilized for asset loss as well as income loss; this would in turn deal with Hurricane Sandy’s effect.

Allocating funds for income loss has the potential for adverse effects on small family fishers. Many fisheries use transferable quotas allocated to individual fishers. These quotas allow large operations to consolidate allowable catches on larger boats. This consolidation resulted in loss of employment (especially in vulnerable coastal communities) and shifted economic powers to a few large operations. Larger operations are likely to claim larger losses and anticipate the lion’s share of emergency relief.  On the other hand, small fishers are likely to get less pay, which might or might not help them recover their losses. Further, crew members usually have less claims than asset owners, and hence have the potential of experiencing even more adverse effects.  Although this disparity is not new or unique to Hurricane Sandy, any emergency relief must be carefully studied. The Secretary’s statement did affirm a clear objective, which is to preserve coastal communities. Hence, one would expect NOAA to take these linked consequences in consideration when submitting its proposal.

Assuming that there remain funds after dealing with Sandy’s effect, the remainder would deal with the second disaster (the declining fish stock and the anticipated income decrease for fishers dependent on such species, e.g., the Northeast ground fish fishery). What makes this puzzling is that a resilient plan which aims to preserve coastal communities will necessitate a long-term approach. However, the bill only allocates the funds until September 2014. This in turn means that NOAA is restricted in its proposal approach and will most likely have to consider a short-term plan.

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