Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank issued disaster declarations for the northeast coast from New York to Maine, for the Chinook salmon fishery in the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River, and Cook Inlet in Alaska, and for oyster and blue crab fisheries in Mississippi. She sent letters to the governors of the states involved.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the declarations allow Congress to authorize aid to relieve economic hardship and preserve coastal communities.
In New England, fishing, especially for cod, was so important that a wooden carving of a codfish known as the "Sacred Cod" has hung in the Massachusetts state house since the 18th century. Centuries of overfishing, however, have left the fisheries of New England and the Canadian Maritimes in ruins in recent decades.
"Despite fishermen's adherence to catch limits over the past few years, recent data shows that several key fish stocks are not rebuilding," Blank said in letters to northeastern governors.
In Alaska, the Commerce Department found failures in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers for at least two years and in the Cook Inlet in 2012.
"Commercial fishery failures can have cascading economic impacts on subsistence and sport fisheries," Blank said. "Rural communities on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers depend on both the commercial and subsistence Chinook salmon fisheries for income and survival. In addition, the Cook Inlet Chinook salmon fishery supports an important sport fishery, which is one of the principal economic drivers for the local and regional economy."
In Mississippi, problems with the oyster and crab fisheries have been blamed on the historic floods in the Mississippi River this year, which sent unusually large quantities of fresh water into the Gulf of Mexico.