Gov. DeSantis Calls for Disaster Declaration for Florida's Fisheries

A grounded charter fishing boat rests atop an SUV after Hurricane Ian, Fort Myers Beach (USACE)

Published Oct 16, 2022 2:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is calling for a disaster declaration for Florida's fishing industry, which was hit hard by Hurricane Ian. Sportfishing is a major tourist draw in Florida, and saltwater fishing anglers create an estimated $9 billion in economic impact for the state every year. 

“The fishing community stepped up to help their neighbors when Hurricane Ian hit, and now they need our help to stay afloat,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “Today, I officially requested the federal government to declare a fisheries disaster to provide access to funding to support our fisherman in their recovery. While we await the federal government’s decision, I will continue to make zero interest loans available to help our captains and fishermen rebuild.”

Damaged commercial fishing vessels near the Fort Myers area (USACE)

Sportfishing operators in Southwest Florida were hit hard. An estimated 5,000 boats were damaged by the hurricane in the region, along with the basic infrastructure of the sportfishing industry - road access, docks, boatyards, and the lodging and amenities needed for tourism. 

Waterway cleanup will be needed too. Private boats and debris are littered along the waterfront in the Fort Myers region, and removing damaged vessels and restoring the area into an attractive tourist destination will take time. 

Commercial fishermen in southwest Florida also face real difficulties: in some hard-hit areas they lack a wholesale buyer to sell their catch to, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto told a press conference Saturday. 

"They need an avenue to sell their product, and we’re gonna have to find out [a solution] because it doesn’t exist right now," he said, speaking alongside DeSantis at a marina in Punta Gorda.

Hurricane Ian is the just latest challenge for the state's fishing industry. As tourist businesses, charter boat operators are heavily reliant on out-of-state travelers, and their bookings were hit hard during the COVID-19 era. The CARES Act COVID relief package in 2020 allocated some $300 million in emergency funding for fisheries, and an additional tranche of appropriations in 2021 added $255 million more. Of this relief, the Department of Commerce allocated about $45 million to Florida to divide up among charter and commercial fishing interests.