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State leaders request declaration of federal fishery resource disaster

June 12, 2019
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

After seven months of calls to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about the water crisis Southwest Florida has experienced over the last two years, Casey Streeter, founder of the Florida Commercial Watermen's Conservation, is pleased with the reaction.

On May 24, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross requesting that the U.S. Department of Commerce declare a federal fishery resource disaster. DeSantis letter was followed by a letter of support from both of Florida's U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

"We are on the verge of losing our commercial industry in Southwest Florida," Streeter said. "It took seven months of phone calls to Florida Fish and Wildlife but the governor requesting this declaration is a great result."

The federal fishery resource disaster falls under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. This is the primary law governing marine fisheries management in U.S. federal waters.

Over the last two years, the fisheries of Southwest Florida, from Tampa to Marco Island, have been damaged by red tide. Last year the red tide lasted from November 2018 through February 2019.

"That's the longest red tide in anyone's memory and Lee County was hit the hardest," Streeter said. "The fishery has been devastated by these water episodes and if something isn't done we could lose the entire Southwest Florida fishing industry."

DeSantis' letter identified the most recent red tide as, "one of the most persistent and impactful red tides in modern history. This event followed another significant red tide that endured from October 2015 through February 2017. Millions of fish were killed during these events"

The fisheries relief process, from request to disbursement of funds, could take more than a year. First the Secretary of Commerce must make a determination. Next the National Marine Fisheries Service conducts an evaluation. If the determination is positive, Congress can then appropriate fisheries disaster relief funds to be distributed by NOAA.

"Most of the cases in the fisheries relief process involve only one species of fish," Streeter said. "What's different about what happened in Lee County is this is across the entire industry and a multi-year event. No one was immune to this. We have generations of fishermen who have their livelihoods at stake.

"I realize these things move slowly through Washington but I'm hoping that this moves forward quickly and disaster relief reaches the fishermen within 9 months to a year."



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