New Jersey says NOAA fisheries relief falls short

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Despite a pool of more than $75 million in federal appropriations for fisheries disaster relief from Hurricane Sandy and other storm damage, New Jersey, at $1.5 million, has received a pittance compared with other regions, according to state legislators and anglers associations.

Marine industry losses in both commercial and recreational fishing because of Sandy have been estimated at $121 million in New Jersey and $77 million in New York, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The two states have been told to split $3 million allocated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service for the recovery, officials told the Inquirer. NOAA has not indicated how funding disbursements were determined.

But one of the six places NOAA is distributing money for declared disasters in 2012 and 2013, Alaska — removed by 4,600 miles from where Sandy made landfall in Brigantine, N.J., on Oct. 29, 2012 — will receive $21 million of the funds for issues with its salmon fisheries. States in New England directly affected by Sandy — Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — will receive the largest share, $33 million, for depleted fish stocks.

American Samoa, a U.S. territory with 55,000 residents on 76 square miles in the South Pacific, will receive $1 million for damage caused by a 2009 tsunami. The rest of the money is going to the Gulf states.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D., N.J., told the Inquirer he is disappointed by the lack of funding. “New Jersey’s fishing industry is a critical driver of our state’s economy,” he said.

In a joint statement released after NOAA made the announcement about the funding late last month, U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker said they were “disappointed and dumbfounded” by NOAA’s decision.

“By NOAA’s own estimate, our state suffered more than $120 million in losses, and a $3 million allocation for New Jersey and New York is a slap in the face to thousands of hard-working families in our fishing industries working hard to rebuild and recover,” the statement said.

Advocates for additional funding contend that NOAA failed to account for losses in the state’s recreational fishing industry — estimated to be a $200-million-a-year industry in the state and an important component of its tourism industry — when it calculated disaster relief.

About 4,000 people are employed by New Jersey’s commercial fishing industry; 18,000 work in the recreational boating and fishing industry.

“If every fishing business owner in New York and New Jersey that was hit hard in the aftermath of Sandy were to show up at the state capital looking for some of this NOAA money, they’d probably be able to get a check for $75,” said Jim Donofrio of the New Gretna-based Recreational Fishing Alliance.

Donofrio said the state’s commercial and recreational fishing industries previously received $2 million in Sandy relief funds.

New Jersey, along with New York, has been “thrown under the bus,” John Mantione, of New York’s Fishing Tackle Trades Association, told the Inquirer.

Lawmakers and others are calling on NOAA and Congress to rethink its stance.

Donofrio sent a letter to Congress in January asking for support of amendments to the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act that would have increased by $50 million the amount of available fisheries funding to states directly affected.

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