Merkley, Wyden, Pacific Coast Members Announce Major Win for Trawlers in Year-End Spending Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, joined by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4), Greg Walden (R-OR-2) and others Wednesday announced a major, bipartisan victory for West Coast trawlers in the 2020 spending bill that Congress is expected to pass this week.
The language proposed by Merkley and supported by the other West Coast Senators and Representatives would forgive more than $10 million in accrued loan interest that was forced onto the West Coast groundfishing fleet because of mismanagement by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
“Today’s news is a huge victory for our coastal communities in Oregon and up and down the West Coast,” said Senator Merkley, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which negotiated the spending bills. “It was outrageous that the federal government forced family fishermen to foot the bill because of bureaucratic incompetence. This win will lift a huge burden off our trawlers’ backs, helping them keep their small businesses afloat and keep our coastal economies humming.”
“Oregonians working on trawlers along the coast can now enter the new year without this senseless burden on the bottom line of their fishing operations,” said Senator Wyden. “Fishing on the Oregon Coast for a living is a key piece of our state’s economy that never should have been a victim of this bureaucratic bungling, and I am glad to have teamed up with fishermen and my congressional colleagues to get this problem fixed.”
“For years, Oregon’s groundfish vessels have been subject to a heavy financial loan burden, caused solely by government ineptitude. Groundfish fisheries are a vital part of Oregon’s coastal economy that need support, not red tape, from Washington. I’m proud to have helped right this ridiculous wrong and ease the financial burden on our region’s fishermen. I will be vigilant to ensure the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) follows through with Congress’s decision and does not short-change Oregonians,” said Rep. DeFazio.
“The West Coast congressional delegation has stepped up and righted a wrong that will have a huge economic benefit for Oregon trawl fishing businesses,” said Heather Mann, Director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative. “The west coast trawl rationalization program, which has been an environmental success, will now start realizing some real economic benefits as well, thanks to our champions in Congress.”
After the Secretary of Commerce declared the West Coast groundfish fishery an economic disaster in 2000, the NMFS provided a $36 million buyout loan to retire one-third of the fishing fleet to reduce overcapacity.
After providing the loan, however, the NMFS inexplicably failed for nearly two years to implement a repayment mechanism and refused to allow the owners of the remaining vessels to start paying off the loan.
As a result, $4 million in interest accrued before repayment was even permitted to start. That additional interest has grown over time; the industry today owes at least $10 million more than it would have if repayment had started immediately as intended. Over the years, this additional interest has created an albatross around the neck of an industry that is already facing significant challenges.
The bipartisan members of Congress last week sent a letter advocating for the change.
The provision secured in today’s bill would forgive the interest resulting from the bureaucratic error, finally making West Coast trawlers whole and helping grow and revive coastal economies from Northern California all the way up to the Canadian border.
The bill is expected to be passed by both the House and Senate this week, and to be signed into law prior to December 20 to avert a government shutdown.