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Fishery Disaster Assistance

The Department of Commerce can provide disaster assistance under either sections 308(b) or 308(d) of the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act (IFA)(16 U.S.C. 4107), as amended, or section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) (16 U.S.C. 1861). 

Disaster Policy Guidance
Policy on Disaster Assistance Under Magnuson-Stevens Act 312(a) & 315, and Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act 308(b) & 308(d)


On June 16, 2011, the Department of Commerce released a policy to provide guidance on how NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will evaluate requests for fishery disaster declarations. Two statutes, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act, provide the authority and requirements for fishery disaster assistance.

Under both statutes, a request for a fishery disaster determination is generally made by the Governor of a State, or by a fishing community, although the Secretary of Commerce may also initiate a review at his or her own discretion. The Secretary determines whether the circumstances are consistent with relevant statutes and warrants a fishery disaster determination. If the Secretary determines that a fishery disaster has occurred, Congress may appropriate funds for disaster assistance, which are administered by the Secretary.

The policy lays out a three-step process, based on statutory language, for evaluating fishery disasters. The policy formalizes the current practice that has been used to evaluate fishery disaster requests, with the specific benefits of:

1. Increasing transparency by clearly defining the steps and criteria that NMFS uses to evaluate fishery disaster declaration requests.
2. Improving timeliness of evaluations by explaining the information needed to evaluate a request, which, depending on the scope of the request, may be federally available or may need to be provided by the requester.
3. Identifying areas of flexibility to take special and unique circumstances into account during the evaluation.
Commercial Fishery Disaster Determinations
IFA Section 308(b)
IFA Section 308(b) authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to provide grants or cooperative agreements to states determined to have been affected by a commercial fishery failure or serious disruption affecting future production due to a fishery resource disaster result of natural or undetermined causes.
IFA Section 308(d)
IFA Section 308(d) enables the Secretary of Commerce to help persons engaged in commercial fisheries projects or other measures to alleviate harm determined by the Secretary to have been incurred as a direct result of a fishery resource disaster arising from a hurricane or other natural disaster. 
MSA Section 312(a)
MSA Section 312(a) dictates that a commercial fishery failure can be declared due to a fishery resource disaster of natural or undetermined cause, or manmade cause not related to fishing. A commercial fishery failure must be shown in order to provide assistance.

Additional Resources
Many fishermen are unaware of federal grants and loans that might be available to them. A NOAA Fisheries report compiles available opportunities and provides basic program information and links to additional details.
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