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FEMA approves $1.8M for repairs to Puerto Rican fishing villages

At about 4 a.m. Christopher McGrath, a commercial fisherman from San Juan, begins to prepare his boat to go out to sea to find fresh fish. That hard work goes on for long hours until the sun goes down, where he then distributes the day’s catch to restaurants and to the public.

Like him, nearly 1,000 fishermen live this daily scenario on the coasts of Puerto Rico. For many, the work is more difficult and demanding after Hurricane María destroyed many of their boats, work equipment and even the wharfs where they docked.

This is why a $1.8 million allocation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Puerto Rico Agriculture Department represents a boost for the island’s fishermen, since it will improve the safety and environment of their places of work, the federal agency said.

“Our goal with these obligations is to help the sector recover, allowing it to continue to support the communities and their families,” said Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, José Baquero-Tirado.

“Fishing is a vital link in the food supply chain on the island and the improvements that will be made will provide an opportunity to take advantage of the resources of our coasts,” he said.

Four fishing villages where 96 fishermen work will be repaired and rebuilt with these federal funds: La Coal Fishing Village in Old San Juan, with an obligation of about $696,000; Maunabo Fishing Village, located near the historic Punta Tuna lighthouse, with about $347,000; El Maní Fishing Village in Mayagüez, with about $393,000; and Guayama Fishing Village with about $383,000.

Of those funds, about $174,000 will go toward the strengthening of the facilities to reduce damage to the structures in the event of future disasters.

According to data from the Puerto Rico Planning Board, in 2018 local fisheries contributed about $300,000 to the island’s economy. In terms of local fish production, in 2017 a little over 1.7 million pounds of fish and about 963,200 pounds of seafood were reported.

National statistics show that commercial activities that depend on the ocean, such as fishing, finance 7% of total employment in Puerto Rico, three times as much as the 2% average for the continental United States, FEMA stated.

“With this obligation from FEMA, aimed at the recovery and reactivation of the fishing villages, we will mitigate one of the sectors that was most affected by past atmospheric events,” said Agriculture Secretary-designate Ramón González-Beiró.

“Through these grants the fishing villages facilities will improve, which is an essential tool for the operation and marketing of the products from our fishermen,” he said.

Prior to Hurricane María’s landfall in 2017, there were some 44 fishing villages, of which at present, there are approximately 20 operating at a full or part time capacity.

“This federal obligation represents an important support for the island’s fishing sector, which has great development potential, not only in financial growth but also on the sustainable food industry,” said Executive Director of the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3, in Spanish) Manuel Laboy-Rivera.

“This sector has a great impact on local businesses and restaurants, as well as in the tourism industry and our communities,” he said. 

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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