Emergency Regulations Governing the Administration of Federal Fisheries Relief Funding Provided to the State of Rhode Island Under the CARES Act


250-RICR-90-00-16 ACTIVE RULE EMERGENCY RULE

Title 250 Department of Environmental Management
Chapter 90 Marine Fisheries
Subchapter 00 N/A
Part 16 Emergency Regulations Governing the Administration of Federal Fisheries Relief Funding Provided to the State of Rhode Island Under the CARES Act
Type of Filing Adoption
Regulation Status Active
Effective 09/10/2020 to 01/07/2021

Regulation Authority :

R.I. Gen. Laws Title 20, Chapter 42-17.1
R.I. Gen. Laws Chapter 42-35

Purpose and Reason :

The purpose of these rules and regulations is to administer the $3,267,923 allocation of federal fisheries relief provided to Rhode Island under Sec. 12005 of the CARES Act, P.L. 116-136 by expeditiously and equitably disbursing it in the form of direct payments to eligible fishery participants in the four sectors used by NOAA Fisheries to establish Rhode Island’s allocation: commercial fishing, commercial aquaculture, seafood processing/wholesaling, and for-hire businesses.

Brief statement of Reason for Finding Imminent Peril :

On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, as P.L. 116-136. Sec. 12005 of the CARES Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to provide $300 million in appropriated funds to assist fishery participants affected by COVID-19, which may include direct payments. It defines fishery participants as Tribes, persons, fishing communities, aquaculture businesses, processors, or other fishing-related businesses who have incurred, as a direct or indirect result of the coronavirus pandemic, economic revenue losses greater than 35 percent as compared to their prior 5-year average revenue, or any negative impacts to subsistence, cultural or ceremonial fisheries. On May 7, 2020, the Secretary of Commerce announced the allocation of the $300 million in fisheries assistance funding provided by Sec. 12005 of the CARES Act to the states, Tribes, and territories with coastal and marine fishery participants who have been negatively affected by COVID–19. The Secretary also announced the state allocations are to be administered through the interstate marine fishery commissions, i.e., the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) for Rhode Island. Rhode Island was initially allocated $3,294,234. That amount was subsequently reduced to $3,267,923 to account for administrative fees assessed by NOAA Fisheries and the ASMFC for the allocation and distribution of funding. On May 18, 2020, NOAA Fisheries issued a Request for Assistance letter to ASMFC, serving as guidance for the development of spend plans by individual states. An attachment to the letter sets forth the methodology and data used by NOAA Fisheries to determine the individual state allocations – namely, available total annual revenue information from the commercial fishing, charter fishing, aquaculture, and processor sectors of coastal states, Tribes, and territories. On May 22, 2020, NOAA Fisheries provided a breakdown of the apportionments, for three of the four sectors, used to determine the individual state allocations. For Rhode Island, the apportionments are: 68.0% commercial fishing and aquaculture; 28.5% seafood processing; and 3.5% for-hire fishing. Since May 7, 2020, NOAA Fisheries has maintained and periodically updated a webpage addressing the fisheries relief funding program, which together with the above-referenced Request for Assistance letter, constitutes the totality of guidance pertaining to the program. That webpage is found here: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/commerce-secretary-announces-allocation-300-million-cares-act-funding. Consistent with the provisions of the Sec. 12005 of the CARES Act and the associated guidance provided by NOAA Fisheries, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (hereafter, “the Department”) initiated a public process to develop the Spend Plan for Rhode Island. The public process included a series of webinars and workshops to brief stakeholders on the program and solicit input on the development of the Rhode Island Spend Plan. A total of seven workshops were held on June 15, June 29, July 8, July 9, July 13, July 22, and July 30, 2020. As a component of the above-described public process, the Department sought and received feedback from stakeholders regarding the enactment of emergency regulations to implement the Spend Plan for Rhode Island, upon approval by NOAA Fisheries. All stakeholders supported the use of emergency regulations to expedite implementation of the fisheries relief program, in recognition that the issues addressed by regulation would be fundamentally the same as the provisions set forth in the Spend Plan. On August 5, 2020, the Department submitted the draft Rhode Island Spend Plan (dated July 27, 2020) to NOAA Fisheries for initial review. The core component of the draft Spend Plan is to provide direct payments to eligible fishery participants in the four sectors used by NOAA Fisheries to establish Rhode Island’s allocation: commercial fishing, commercial aquaculture, seafood processing/wholesaling, and for-hire businesses. On August 18, 2020, NOAA Fisheries provided comments to the Department, specifying modifications to the draft Rhode Island Spend Plan needed to gain approval. On September 2, 2020, the Department conducted an eighth public workshop to review the final changes to the Rhode Island Spend Plan made in response to the comments provided by NOAA Fisheries. At that workshop, a draft of these emergency regulations was also provided for review and comment. Only one comment was received, following the workshop, from a non-participant in the fishery. It pertained to core provisions of the RI Spend Plan that had already been thoroughly vetted and resolved with the RI stakeholders over the course of the previous seven workshops. As such, the comment was found to have no bearing, given the status of the process. On or about September 10, 2020, NOAA Fisheries granted final approval to the Rhode Island Spend Plan. These emergency regulations operationalize the process of disbursing Rhode Island’s $3,267,923 allocation under Sec. 12005 of the CARES Act, consistent with the provisions of the Act, the guidance provided by NOAA Fisheries, and the approved Rhode Island Spend Plan.