Sen. Cantwell, Rep. Herrera Beutler Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support West Coast Fishing Jobs

New legislation would give fishermen flexibility to grow businesses by refinancing federal loans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-03) and Jared Huffman (D-CA-02) led a coalition of senators and representatives to introduce new legislation that would help support the West Coast’s fishing industry.

The Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries in the Pacific Act is cosponsored by Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Begich (D-AK) in the U.S. Senate. The House version of the bill is cosponsored by Jared Huffman (D-CA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Don Young (R-AK), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Mike Thompson (D-CA).

Many fishing businesses in the West Coast groundfish fishery have struggled to pay high interest rates on federal loans and fees on their catch. This legislation ensures these fishermen receive the same interest rates on federal loans as other businesses, and extends the length of these loans from 30 to 45 years. In addition, the legislation reduces fees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collects from fishermen to pay down their loans.

In 2011, the West Coast groundfish fishery supported 3,000 jobs and a catch valued at $64 million.

“The fishing industry is crucial to our state’s $10.8 billion coastal economy,” said Cantwell. “In Washington state and Alaska, we have some of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. This bill helps put fishing businesses on a level playing field with other businesses getting federal loans. Groundfish fishermen will receive the flexibility they need to grow their businesses and help spur economic activity in communities all along our coast.”

“This bill will provide much-needed relief to the folks in Southwest Washington whose livelihoods depend on fishing,” said Herrera Beutler.  “Conditions have changed in both the economy and the fishing industry since these loans were issued, and too many small fishing businesses up and down our coast are struggling to keep afloat financially.  I’m proud to lead this solution with Senator Cantwell, Congressman Huffman and a bipartisan group of our colleagues who want to help save fishing jobs and reduce the squeeze on fishermen’s bottom lines.”

“The success of our local fishermen is essential to the health of the North Coast’s economy, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to repay the debt on a decade-old federal loan. The combination of interest payments, new fees, and rising fuel costs are putting small businesses in our coastal communities at risk,” Congressman Huffman said. “The REFI Act will simply let the fishermen refinance their existing loan at today’s lower interest rates—just like any other homeowner or business owner would do. It’s a win-win for small businesses and the environment.”

"From central California to Southwest Washington, the West Coast groundfish fleet has worked with Senator Cantwell and Representative Herrera Beutler, on the introduction of the REFI Pacific Act," said Robert Dooley, President of United Catcher Boats, a trade association that represents fishermen on the West Coast and in Alaska. "Our fishery is on the recovery thanks to catch shares but increased costs will undermine that recovery. This bill will help ensure the success and even survival of our fishery and the 3,000 jobs supported by the fishery"

“A vessel owner in this fleet often ends up paying a significant amount of their revenue toward the repayment of the government loan,” said David Lethin, a fisherman from Wahkiakum County in Washington state.  “That’s money that could be used to repair, maintain, and with some luck, upgrade, vessels, gear and safety equipment—something that this Pacific Coast fleet hasn’t been able to afford for a very long time.  We are grateful for Senator Cantwell and Congresswoman Herrera Beutler for their willingness to address our needs, and take the initiative to find workable solutions.”

The Secretary of Commerce declared the West Coast groundfish fishery a federal fisheries economic disaster in 2000, because of overcapitalization and overfishing. In 2003, Congress authorized buyback loans for the fishery to decrease fishing pressure and support a catch-share program in the fishery. These loans help eliminate overfishing by buying out the permits of fishermen willing to leave the fleet. The remaining fishermen in the fleet have since been responsible for the loans.

Cantwell, a member and former chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, is a long-time advocate for initiatives that protect the health of the ocean’s resources and coastal economies. Herrera Beutler represents communities throughout Pacific, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties that depend on the fishing industry for economic survival.