PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island lawmakers have joined Gov. Lincoln Chafee in pushing the federal government to declare a disaster in the New England groundfish fishery, citing significant catch limit reductions projected for next year.

The lawmakers say in a letter released Saturday that the declaration could make fishermen eligible for additional loan programs and authorizes Congress to provide additional assistance.

Chafee on Friday issued a request to the U.S. Department of Commerce, citing significant cuts in catch limits for species as cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder that are projected for 2013.

The governors of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine have made similar requests. Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts last week asked for $21 million in disaster relief for his state.

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse together with U.S. Reps. James Langevin and David Cicilline say in a joint letter released Saturday that commercial fishing is a vital part of the Rhode Island economy and culture.

"We specifically want to underscore the Governor's point that in addition to the direct impact on groundfish catch limits, there will likely be indirect impacts on other fisheries that these same permit holders, and many other Rhode Island fishermen, also rely on," the lawmakers said in the letter.

The New England fishing industry has struggled in recent years after authorities imposed tighter catch limits to allow depleted fish stocks to grow to sustainable levels.

The lawmakers say in their letter fishery cuts projected for next year would cause economic hardship to groundfish permit holders.

"Declaring a disaster is recognition of the severe hardship facing the New England fishing industry and we encourage the Commerce Department to call on all available resources and programs that could benefit these fisheries-dependent coastal communities," according to the letter. "This includes working with the Small Business Administration on available operating and disaster loans, workforce education programs, and supporting the National Marine Fisheries Service on other assistance measures."