Governor DeSantis Requests NOAA Assistance in Disaster Fisheries

Governor DeSantis Requests NOAA Assistance in Disaster Fisheries

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – Hurricane Ian’s powerful storm force destroyed much of Southwest Florida’s fishing industry, from boats to docks to fishermen’s homes.

On Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference in Punta Gorda to announce that he is seeking NOAA’s help in the event of fish disasters to United States Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

“These will be commercial fishermen, these will be wholesalers, charter boat captains, offshore, near shore, inshore fishing,” Governor DeSantis said. “And there was damage to all of them. Now we don’t know the exact impact on the industry. And hopefully the impacts are not as severe as the worst case scenario, but we don’t know for sure. But this is clear, a storm of this magnitude, this is appropriate for this declaration. So once this is approved, then it allows these groups and people in the industry to work with NOAA so they can get more support.”

As defined by NOAA, a fishery disaster refers to a failure of a commercial fishery, a catastrophic regional fishery disaster, significant damage caused, or serious disruption affecting future production due to a disaster of fishery resources resulting from natural, undetermined, or, in certain circumstances, man-made causes. .

Hurricane Ian did just that. As Fox 4 reported, Hurricane Ian severely damaged the shrimp boat fleet in Fort Myers Beach. Only three of the 50 shrimp boats in the harbor during the storm are now able to harvest shrimp. The rest were piled high or severely damaged by Hurricane Ian’s onslaught.

During a Florida Sea Grant webinar at the University of Florida on Friday, UF marine resource economics expert Andrew Ropicki explained how important the shrimp fishery is to the state of Florida.

“Lee County fisheries, you’re talking about $13 million a year in dock revenue,” Ropicki said. “To give you an idea, the state of Florida as a whole does about $52 million a year in total shrimp revenue.”

In addition to the shrimp fleet, Pine Island lost four of the island’s five fish houses. These are locations where fishermen can land their boats so that the fish can be sold at the market.

Earlier this week, Fox 4 spoke with Casey Streeter, commercial fisherman and owner of Island Seafood Market on Matlachi. Streeter said the industry is in bad shape after the storm, and if we lose our fishery, we lose a lot of history in Southwest Florida.

“Especially our fishermen on Pine Island, the original infrastructure on this island was set up to get the catch from the fishermen to the market,” Streeter said. “So the culture, the history of what made this area unique is gone or will be gone, and I don’t want to see that.”

Streeter appealed to the state and federal governments for help. That aid now comes on the heels of Governor DeSantis’ request for disaster relief in fisheries. Unfortunately, as Streeter explained earlier this week, that help could still take some time.

“We need the support of Congress to push through our disaster declaration because there are resources that come into the fishery when we have these problems, but that could take up to 2 to 3 years,” Streeter said.

UF’s Ropicki said Friday if the public wants to help fishermen affected by Hurricane Ian, consider buying Florida-caught seafood.

“Really search and ask about Florida-caught seafood,” Ropicki said. “I think a lot of the industry is still on the sidelines, but as they bring production back online, get their boats back in the water and working out there, what would help is the demand for fresh Florida seafood.”

Saturday is also the first day of rock crab season in Southwest Florida. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto said the FWC is aware of infrastructure issues in areas where crabs can land their catch and is currently working on a solution.

“We are aware of the fact that the fishery may not have anywhere to sell it,” Chairman Barreto said. “So we’re going to talk to the governor about that, because they need an avenue to sell their product and we’re going to have to find that. Because right now there isn’t one. But the resources are there and we want to make sure they have access to that.”

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