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Post Ian Federal Fishing Disaster Decision Delayed

Posted at 5:03 PM, Mar 29, 2023

MATLACHA, Fla. — Hurricane Ian devastated many industries in Southwest Florida including our local fisheries. In October, Governor Ron DeSantis requested NOAA Fishery Disaster Assistance to aid that industry.

NOAA sent a letter to FWC in the past week stating the requirements were 'not met' for a rapid assessment of a catastrophic regional fishery disaster.

Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley spoke to shop owner and commercial fisherman Casey Streeter, about what a delay in disaster assistance means.

"By the federal government not coming in and supporting our fisheries in our time of need, it really puts us on the verge of losing our fisheries in Southwest Florida," said Streeter.

When Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida, it destroyed 4 of the 5 fish houses on Pine Island, where fisherman offload their catch. It also crippled the shrimping fleet for months.

Streeter says that the lost infrastructure is still a problem.

"If you don't have a place to execute these fisheries, you are not going to have fishermen,” said Streeter. “When you lose your current fishermen to land jobs. They leave the fishery, and they aren't going to return."

Post Ian Federal Fishing Disaster Decision Delayed

If we lose our working waterfronts, Streeter says the economic impacts will be widespread.

"In these fisheries, in Lee County alone, we are the third largest seafood-producing county in the state,” said Streeter. "This is a major financial impact on Southwest Florida if we don't bring these fisheries back."

In the letter NOAA sent FWC, it states that the National Marine Fisheries Service will continue to work with the state to assess whether a fishery resource disaster occurred. NOAA says a fishery resource disaster must be caused by forces beyond the control of fishery managers to mitigate through conservation measures. If that is determined, then the Secretary of Commerce may provide disaster assistance.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says they are working with NOAA to find a way. In a statement they said:

FWC is committed to assisting Florida's fishing industry as they recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian. We are continuing to work with federal partners to identify ways we can support recovery efforts and coordinate the next steps.

"Fishermen are gritty, so we will find a way,” said Streeter. “But these challenges that we are going to all face, some won't come back. Because it is too great of a cost."

As of now, Streeter says he still plans on coming back this winter and hopes to start selling fish again this coming Christmas season. Unfortunately, without aid, he believes others may not be so lucky.