April 6, 2020
St. Thomas, USVI- Over $10M in funding is available to assist eligible members of the fishing community who suffered economic loss from the 2017 storms. In a letter to the Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory called on the Department to do what is necessary to make this funding—which has been on hand since 2019—available to our local fishing community. “Now more than ever, our fishing community will need support to be able to withstand the financial impact from COVID-19 as they continue to recover their losses from the 2017 storms,” said Sen. Frett-Gregory. Frett-Gregory’s letter to the Commissioner states that the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to receive $10.7 million dollars. The goal was to establish a four-year program to support fishing businesses who experienced economic hardship as a direct result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. This money is especially critical to the survival of the fishing community, since many did not qualify for assistance programs like the FEMA emergency assistance grants and the Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. “Being able to receive thousands of dollars in direct payments to repair damaged vessels, purchase necessary gear and to rehabilitate fishing facilities will help to boost the fishing economy and to sustain the fishing community’s livelihood,” said Frett-Gregory on Monday. Providing the fishing community with access to financial resources will not only ensure they continue to thrive, but that Virgin Islands residents are able to catch, cook and consume their own food—especially during a time when the pandemic has forced closures of ports and borders across the world. “Just today in the Governor’s press conference, it was mentioned that financial resources would be moved around to assist members of the agricultural community, which would require legislative approval or proper procurement, whichever is applicable. But there was no mention of what the territory is doing to ensure fishers will have access to the $10M available right now,” said the senator. With the worsening pandemic, it is clear that industries providing basic necessities, like food, must be protected for the benefit of the entire Virgin Islands community. A thriving fishing community helps to provide food security for Virgin Islands residents. “The fishing community is a critical part of our food ecosystem and integral to Virgin Islands culture,” said Sen. Frett-Gregory. “Promises were made to the fishing community in a December public hearing and to date none of the funds have been disbursed. The Governor needs to see to it that the Commissioner of DPNR provides our fishers with access to this much needed funding immediately”.
Chief of Staff
Office of Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory