FORT MYERS, FLORIDA — In addition to providing immediate emergency assistance to residents of Southwest Florida, the DeSantis administration is also working to help sustain the region’s marine fishing industry.
On Thursday, the governor announced he will waive an eligibility requirement of the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program to allow sole proprietors in the industry with businesses located in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Lee and Sarasota counties to receive critical assistance. The program offers short-term, zero-interest loans to help “bridge the gap” until businesses can either get back on their feet or obtain longer term financing.
Florida is the nation’s top state for saltwater fishing anglers. Saltwater fishing brings in close to $10 billion and supports nearly 90,000 jobs each year, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
On Saturday, the governor announced at a press conference that he had formally requested the U.S. Secretary of Commerce issue a federal fisheries disaster. If approved, the declaration would enable NOAA’s Fishery Disaster Assistance to help fund efforts to rebuild fisheries impacted by Hurricane Ian. The money would help replace fishermen’s lost income and rebuild their businesses and infrastructure.
The region is known for shrimp and charter fishing. Just three of the 50 shrimp boats in the Fort Myers Beach fleet that were at port during the storm are still usable, Fox 4 reported. According to the outlet, UF Marine Resource Economics Specialist Andrew Ropicki estimated the Lee County shrimp fishery brings in $13 million of the state’s $52 million annual dockside revenue.
CUTTING RED TAPE
At Saturday’s press conference, DeSantis said that 225 of the 1,000 completed applications for bridge loans have been approved.
“We’ve worked really hard to cut through the red tape,” DeSantis said. “This is a big challenge for the marine community, it’s a big challenge for our fisherman, but it’s one that we want to make sure that we in the state of Florida are standing with them.”
Earlier this month, FWC waived tag requirements for commercial stone crab traps in Northeast and Southwest Florida for the remainder of the 2022–2023 license year, expediting a return to business for stone crabbers. FWC Commissioner Robert Spottswood called the waiver “just one step of many we are taking to provide relief to those fishermen affected by Hurricane Ian.”
The governor pointed to skyrocketing inflation that has compounded the problems caused by Ian’s historic destruction.
“Whatever gear they had that’s been destroyed, it’s much more expensive to replace that today than it was just two or three years ago,” DeSantis said of those in the fishing industry hit by the storm. “Everything you see that are being repaired costs more than they would’ve cost in 2019 or 2020. That’s just the economic reality we live in.”
Fortunately, some federal aid has already arrived. On Monday, The U.S. Department of Labor awarded $15 million to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity as part of the National Dislocated Worker Grant. The grant, worth up to $30 million, provides temporary employment focused on debris removal and water damage cleanup, career and training services for workers affected by the storm and humanitarian aid.