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Commonly Asked Questions About Groundfish Disaster Funding

Atlantic cod.  Photo credit: NOAA

On Sept. 12, 2012, the Department of Commerce determined that a commercial fishery failure due to a fishing resource disaster would exist in the “Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery” for the 2013 fishing year. This determination was made recognizing that, despite fishermen’s adherence to strict catch limits, several key groundfish stocks were not rebuilding as expected, resulting in the need for severe quota cuts in fishing year 2013.

As part of the 2014 fiscal year budget, Congress approved $75 million in fishery disaster aid, of which $32.8 million is being distributed to the Northeast groundfish fishery. 

The fishery directors from six affected states (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York), in partnership with NOAA Fisheries, recently announced a consensus plan to distribute the disaster funds. The following Q&A provides responses to some of the questions we've heard concerning how aid is being distributed.

Q:        How will the groundfish money be distributed?

A:        The consensus plan funds several key components developed by the state directors and industry “to    restore the fishery or prevent a similar failure in the future and to assist a fishing community affected by such failure.” It splits the $32.8 million into thirds -- roughly $11 million in each -- and allocates approximately:

Q:        How much money will each state receive?

A:        Under this plan, approximately one third, or roughly $11 million, will be set aside for the potential development of a government-led buyout program or to support an industry-funded buyback program.  The remaining two-thirds, approximately $22 million would be divided among the six states as follows:

Q:        How were the state shares determined?

A:        The money will be allocated to the states based on an agreed-to formula that considers groundfish revenue losses affecting each of the six states in recent years, with a slight adjustment to ensure that no state receives less than $250,000. The money allocated for direct assistance to limited-access permit holders is based on the number of Northeast multispecies permit holders who declared homeports in each state. The states will use the money allocated to them  to directly pay qualifying permit holders that are homeported in their state.

Q:        How much of this money is actually going to fishermen?

A:        Virtually all of the money, minus minimal administrative fees, is going to the fishing industry. Two-thirds of the money will go to support the fishing industry in the near-term, either in the form of direct assistance to individual fishermen or to support state-directed efforts designed to address the unique and varied needs of each states’ fishing communities. 

For instance, states may opt to use monies to assist groundfish for-hire fishermen, vessel crew, state permit holders, shore-based businesses like ice companies and seafood dealers and processors, or to fund cooperative research programs. The rest of the funds will be used to develop a buyout or a buyback program for the fishing industry.

Q:        Who do I call if I have state specific questions about either about direct assistance or state-    directed grants?

A:        Each state fishery agency has designated a contact person as follows:

Maine Department of Marine Resources

 
Meredith Mendelson at (207) 624-6553
New Hampshire Fish and Game

 
Cheri Patterson at (603) 868-1095
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries

 
Melanie Griffin at (617) 626-1528

Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management

 

Robert Ballou, 401-222-4700, ext. 4420
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Marine Resources Steve Heins  at (631) 444-0436
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Mark Alexander at (860) 434-6043.

 

Q:        How much overhead will the federal government and states take for administrative purposes?

A:        The amounts will be reduced by a Fiscal Year 2014 Hollings budget reduction (0.1%) as required by Congress. Other than this small reduction, NOAA Fisheries does not anticipate taking any federal overhead to distribute these funds. States will take a small percentage of the funds to administer the grant programs. For further information on state overhead, please contact your state fishery agency.

Q:        When will the money be available to the states?

A:        We are working to allocate the funds as quickly as possible. Each state will have to develop and submit spend plans/grant applications to NOAA for approval of the funds for both the direct assistance and state-directed grants. 

For the direct assistance portion of the funds, we have shared a list of eligible permit holders with each of the states, which has helped to expedite the development of these spend plans. Once we receive state spend plans and grant applications, we will try to process and approve them as quickly as possible.  However, a number of steps are required before the state grants can be distributed. Once a complete spend plan/grant application is developed and submitted, we have to go through the federal grant process to ensure that statutory and grant requirements are addressed. This typically takes two to three months to complete.

Direct assistance

Q:        How much will each fisherman who receives direct assistance get?

A:        For the direct assistance portion of the funding, potentially 336 limited-access Northeast Multispecies permit holders who have landed at least 5,000 pounds of regulated Northeast groundfish multispecies  in any of the past four fishing years, beginning with fishing year 2010 (May 1, 2010–April 30, 2011) through fishing year 2013 (May 1, 2013-April 30, 2014), each will receive approximately $32,500.The states may adopt additional requirements that must be met before a disbursement can be made. For instance, even if an individual meets the initial federal requirements, he could be disqualified if he/she has not paid state taxes.

Q:        How were the eligibility criteria for direct assistance determined?

A:        Several commercial fishery industry groups recommended potential criteria to the six states and NOAA Fisheries for consideration. One of the industry groups’ stated objective was to develop a regional spending plan to ensure consistency in the treatment of active fishing businesses affected by the disaster and to ensure that those who received payment were dependent on groundfish. The goal was to issue a uniform payment across vessel size class, state, and sector boundaries to spread out the direct assistance as quickly as possible across the fishery without the complications and delays that would be incurred in determining actual adverse impacts on each limited-access Northeast multispecies permit holder. It was recognized that these funds would not "make whole" any one owner for their declines in fishing revenues.  A number of the permit holders who had larger declines in fishing revenues agreed to this approach.Based on these recommendations and other considerations, this plan was agreed to by state directors and NOAA Fisheries.  State directors and NOAA Fisheries also discussed the option of assisting others who did not qualify for direct assistance through the state-directed grant funds.

Q:        Why are you counting only groundfish landings and not landings of other commercial species caught by federal limited-access Northeast multispecies permit holders?

A:        The disaster determination was based on the decline of the groundfish fishery and the effects of that decline. For that reason, it was agreed that the direct assistance funds should go to help as many fishermen as possible who, in recent years, were actively fishing for groundfish and primarily dependent on groundfish for their livings.

Q:        Why did you base landings for qualifying permits on fishing years rather than calendar years?

A:        Fishing year vs. calendar year was used for determining qualifying permit eligibility for disaster assistance because that is the way the Northeast multispecies fishery is managed and monitored.

Q:        Why doesn't more money go as direct assistance to fishermen?

A:        In developing this spend plan, NOAA Fisheries and state directors spent a lot of time talking to industry leaders and members of the fishing community, congressional members, and non-government organizations. State directors also held meetings with their constituents to solicit their ideas and opinions on how funds should be spent. This three-part approach is an attempt to capture and respond to the diverse viewpoints we heard. Not all fishermen we talked to wanted to receive direct assistance. We heard a range of ideas for how the money should be allocated, including vessel buyouts/buybacks, assistance for shore-based businesses that support the industry, funds to support for-hire fishermen who also target groundfish, and funds for cooperative research. This plan balances direct assistance for near-term relief but also attempts to develop a long-term capacity reduction program for the future.

Q:        How do I know if I am eligible for direct assistance?

A:        We are sending letters to all individuals who held a federal limited-access Northeast multispecies commercial groundfish permit or Confirmation of Permit History (CPH) as of April 30, 2014, to let them know if they were preliminarily eligible for a direct assistance payment.

Q:        If I meet all federal and state requirements, how will the payment be made?

A:        If you meet all requirements, once disaster funds have been distributed to the states, your payment will be made based on the home state indicated on your fishing year 2013 limited-access Northeast multispecies permit as of April 30, 2014. If your permit is in a CPH, the payment will be based upon the state listed on the most recent address associated with the CPH. A person or entity who does not currently own a fishing vessel, but who has owned a qualifying vessel that has sunk, been destroyed, or transferred to another person, must obtain a CPH if the fishing and permit history of the vessel has been retained by the owner. Issuance of a valid CPH preserves the eligibility of the owner to apply for a limited-access permit for a replacement vessel in the future based on the qualifying vessel's fishing and permit history.

Q:        What do I do if I believe an error has been made in determining whether or not I qualify for direct assistance?

A:        The landings eligibility criteria are based on dealer and vessel trip reports submitted to NOAA Fisheries. If a permit holder thinks there has been an error in landings attributed to the permit, the permit holder may ask us for  his/her catch history information, and we will work with  him/her to resolve the error.  If we need to make corrections to the data and this affects a permit holder’s eligibility, he/she will be notified.

To request landings data, permit holders simply need to provide us with their vessel name, permit number, their name, and contact information, ideally an e-mail address and phone number.  The request must be signed and dated. Requests for catch history information may be submitted in one of three ways:

By mail to:  APSD Data Request, NOAA Fisheries, 55 Great Republic Dr., Gloucester, MA  01930;

By fax to:  (978) 281-9196, Attn:  APSD Data Request; or

By e-mail scanned file to:  <NMFS.GAR.Data.Requests@noaa.gov>.

Q:        Is it true that one individual or a corporation could receive multiple checks?

A:        Yes, it is possible that a person with more than one federal limited-access Northeast multispecies permit may receive multiple checks if the landings associated with each permit meet the landing criteria of 5,000 pounds during the qualifying fishing years.For instance, if a fisherman owns and fishes multiple vessels, and those vessels all meet the landings criteria, he/she could receive a check for each qualifying permit.

Q:        What if there are multiple owners of a permit or CPH?

A:        The check is distributed to the documented owner of the permit/CPH, which may be a corporation. For example, if there are four persons involved in ownership, the check will be made out to the corporate owner, and it will be up to the individuals to divvy up the proceeds as they see fit.

Q:        What happens if landings were made in part or wholly by a previous owner of a vessel or permit?

A:        Only the permit holder as of April 30, 2014, the end of the 2013 fishing year, will be eligible for the funds.  This is the fishing year for which the  Secretary of Commerce  declared a commercial fisheries failure in the Northeast groundfish fishery. Prior owners are free to reach out to their respective state agency to see if some of the other funds being made available to states to spend for other purposes can be used to assist them.

Q:        Does the approximately $32,500 in direct assistance  (disaster relief) count as taxable income?

A:        We recommend that fishermen consult with their accountants or other tax experts to answer this question.

Q:        Do I have to submit a grant application or other paperwork to receive my direct assistance check?

A:        You do not need to submit any paper work to us. Each state will determine what paperwork may be needed for disbursement of the direct assistance funds.  This information should be available in the near future.  You should contact your respective state fishery agency for further details.

Q:        What happens if I landed in excess of 5,000 pounds during one of the qualifying years, but I sold my permit?

A:        If you sold your fishing vessel but retained the fishing eligibility (Confirmation of Permit History/CPH), you may still be eligible for assistance under the direct assistance portion of the funds. 

However, if you sold your permit along with your vessel then you will not be eligible for the direct assistance funds. In this case, you may want to reach out to your respective state fishery management agency to recommend that some of the other state direct grants monies be used to assist people in your situation.

Q:        Why were open-access handgear permits not included in the direct aid eligibilities if they met the landings threshold?

A:        NOAA Fisheries and state directors felt active limited-access Northeast multispecies permit holders were those most dependent on the groundfish fishery and, therefore, most affected by the disaster. Other disaster funds being made available to states may potentially be used to help other fishermen affected by the disaster. Handgear permit holders may want to contact their state agency to see if they may be eligible for assistance under these grants.

Q:        Is there any other opportunity for some assistance if I don’t qualify for direct assistance?

A:        Yes, anyone who may have been impacted by the groundfish disaster who is not eligible for direct assistance may reach out to the state fishery management agency in his/her respective state. Over the next several months, state agencies will be developing spend plans for another portion of the disaster funds, roughly $11 million in state-directed grants.  This provides an opportunity for commercial and for-hire fishermen and businesses that support these industries to provide input on how these funds should be distributed.

State-directed grants

Q:        How much leeway do states have to develop spend plans for use of the other state-directed grants?

A:        The spend plan can cover a wide range of impacts related to the groundfish disaster.  States can address impacts on commercial vessels, for-hire vessels (party and charter boats), crew, support industries such as processors and fish houses, and communities. For example, funding could be used for direct payments to fishermen, infrastructure projects, habitat restoration, vessel and permit buybacks, and job retraining, among many other uses.

Q:        Could states pass their state-directed grants through to groundfish sectors?

A:        If states want to work with sectors to develop their spend plans for the state directed grants, they have the ability to do so.

Q:        Who do I contact to learn more about how the state-directed grants are going to be developed?

A:        Each state will be developing a grant application and spend plan for the state-directed portion of the funds.  NOAA Fisheries will provide some general guidance on the development of these grants, but the states will have a great deal of flexibility to

determine how monies should be allocated. To learn more about how to provide input on the development of these grants, please contact your respective state fishery agency.

Buyback/buyout

Q:        What is the difference between a buyback and a buyout program?

A:        Typically, a buyback program is a program developed by the fishing industry according to a process laid out in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. It involves using a Federal loan to buyback permits and/or vessels. Those permit holders who remain in the fishery repay the loan over time. A buyout is a program where the federal or state government purchases permits and/or vessels.  Under a buyout, the funds do not have to be repaid.

Q:        What is the process for developing a buyback program?

A:        In general, the fishing industry develops a business plan and puts it forward through a referendum for approval.  Funds for the buyback would then be leveraged by federal seed money, and the loan would be paid back by the industry through a “tax” on landings.  The disaster funds could be used to reduce the amount of landings tax necessary to repay the buyback loan.

Q:        What are the next steps that the government plans to take to explore whether or not to implement a buyback or a buyout program?

A:        NOAA Fisheries will continue to discuss potential buyback or buyout plans with the state directors and industry groups.

Q:        What is the deadline for designing and implementing a buyback or buyout program?

A:        There is no specific deadline, but NOAA Fisheries, working with the states and the groundfish industry, would strive to develop an acceptable plan in the shortest time possible.

Q:        What happens to the money allocated for a buyback/buyout program if none are developed?

A:        In that event, NOAA Fisheries would discuss potential alternate uses of these funds with the state fishery directors.

For more information, call Allison Ferreira, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, at (978) 281-9103 or e-mail her at <Allison.ferreira@noaa,gov>.