For Immediate Release - September 21, 2009

Patrick-Murray Administration Distributes $1.2 million in Disaster Relief to Shellfish Industry

Funds Provide Relief for Lost Income Caused by Red Tide in 2008

HARWICH - Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Ian Bowles today announced the distribution of $1.2 million in federal disaster assistance to 260 Massachusetts commercial shellfishermen who lost income due to red tide-related shellfish area closures in 2008.

"I am pleased to announce the distribution of this federal aid to shellfish harvesters who were affected by the long-term closure of shellfish flats due to red tide that occurred last year," said Secretary Bowles. "Governor Patrick recognized the hardship imposed on the shellfish industry and requested this federal aid in the fall of 2008. We are grateful to the work of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation in helping to make sure that shellfishermen will soon be compensated for their losses."

The Department of Fish and Game's (DFG) Division of Marine Fisheries began sending relief checks to fishermen last Friday, September 18, 2009.

Individuals compensated come from the following communities: Holliston, Natick, Woburn, Billerica, Wilmington, Lynn, Saugus, Amesbury, Byfield, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Lynnfield, Newbury, Rowley, Hingham, Hull, Boston, Scituate, Charlestown, Revere, Winthrop, Quincy, Braintree, Weymouth, Plymouth, Whitman, Sandwich, Chatham, Eastham, Orleans, Harwich, Wellfleet and Barnstable.

"This aid will help hundreds of commercial shellfish harvesters for losses they incurred and the remaining funds will help the Division of Marine Fisheries to better manage future red tide outbreaks," said DFG Commissioner Mary Griffin.

In the spring of 2008, freshwater runoff from rains and snow melt drove nutrients into the near shore, fueling a large and continuous red tide algal bloom off the coast of Maine. The Western Maine Coastal Current and easterly winds sent the red tide bloom into Massachusetts' waters. As the bloom expanded and the concentration of the neurotoxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) grew, toxicity levels rose, requiring red tide closures throughout the state.

Closures affected 39 coastal communities in Massachusetts from April 11, 2008 through June 26, 2008. Twenty-nine of the affected communities have commercial shellfish industries that generate 40 to 60 percent of their total revenue from May to September in the areas that were shut down for PSP for an average of 70 days. DMF estimated that Massachusetts shellfishermen suffered an economic loss of $1.2 million due to 2008 red tide closures.

On September 4, 2008, Governor Deval Patrick formally requested federal disaster assistance to help harvesters in the affected communities, and the U.S. Commerce Department subsequently approved the allocation of $5 million in disaster relief to Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Maine and Massachusetts received $2 million each and New Hampshire received $1 million. On May 14, 2009, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved DMF's "2009 Massachusetts Red Tide Technical Assistance and Disaster Relief Proposal."

A total of $1.2 million was allocated to a Lost Income Subsidy (LIS) program, which allows affected shellfish fishermen to receive direct relief for up to 100 percent of estimated income lost. Of the three states allocated red tide disaster relief, Massachusetts was the only one to provide a direct subsidy to the commercial shellfish industry. DMF has so far approved 222 commercial fishermen for LIS funding. The average payment is $4,077.89 - with payments ranging from $72 to $61,548.

In addition, DMF has identified 54 shellfishermen from the Nauset area as eligible for a second round of relief funding. These harvesters recently received notification of their eligibility to apply for funds.

"Last year's red tide outbreak knocked our shell fishermen off their feet and this relief funding will help pull them back up. In the long term, it'll help us get to the root of the problem and find ways to control, prevent and mitigate red tides," said Senator Kerry.

"The health of New England's shellfish industry is vital to the economic health of our coastal communities" said U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt. "The outbreak of red tide has been devastating to our fishermen and I am pleased that we were able to secure federal assistance to help cushion the impact"

"During these tough economic times, I am pleased that this funding will go to the relief of fishermen whose businesses and families were affected by last year's crippling closures due to red tide. Further, it is my hope that the funding for research will yield some positive results moving forward," said US Rep. John F. Tierney.

Species prohibited from harvest in 2008 included bay scallops, blue mussels, conch, eastern oysters, moon snails, northern quahogs, ocean quahogs, razor clams, soft shell clams, surf clams and whole sea scallops.

Following final appeal decisions, remaining funding will be allocated to a health insurance subsidy program to be subcontracted to the Massachusetts Fisherman's Partnership, as stipulated in the federally-approved disaster relief proposal. The $800,000 in technical assistance will fund the hiring of personnel, lab renovation and equipment purchases to help DMF target closures more precisely to lessen the economic impact of future red tide events.