Maine secures $ 20 million federal bailout for US fishing industry
Maine is set to get $ 20.3 million to help its battered seafood industry weather the COVID-19 storm.
The prize comes from the $ 300 million in federal funding included in the CARES Act to help the U.S. fishing industry survive the economic losses associated with the pandemic. Maine’s price was the fifth highest of 31 states, behind Alaska, Washington, Massachusetts and Florida.
It is not clear exactly how the funds will be distributed among the 18,000 licensed fishermen, seafood traders, processors, aquaculture operators and charter operators who make up the revenue-generating Maine seafood industry. estimated at $ 788.2 million per year. The sector has been particularly affected by the pandemic.
“This relief program will help American fishermen and the seafood industry recover from this unprecedented challenge,” US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “I thank our fishermen for their commitment to ensuring the safety of our communities. “
The agency distributed the $ 300 million proportionally among the 31 commercial fishing states, basing each price on the multi-year average of revenues generated by the commercial fishing, charter fishing, processing and fishing industries. aquaculture in that state.
The department is still refining guidelines for grant eligibility, but said it would be up to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the Maine Department of Marine Resources to develop the spending plan. of State. The plan must be approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The department will work on developing a plan for distributing these funds as soon as we have further guidance,” said State Department Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “While this funding is a welcome step forward, additional funding will be required to fully mitigate the losses.”
The news comes more than a month after President Trump enacted the $ 2.2 trillion CARES law.
NOAA said states could use the bailout money to make direct payments to fishing companies, invest in its fishing-related infrastructure or fishing-related education. However, not everyone on the waterfront is able to apply – NOAA has designated boat and bait repair operations as ineligible.
According to the wording of the CARES Act, industry participants are eligible for bailout funding if they can show a 35% loss in income from their five-year average. NOAA said it is up to each state to determine who meets this requirement.
While the bulk of Maine’s most valuable catch, the lobster, is typically not transported in late winter and early spring, those who typically earn the highest prices for every pound of their taken during the hardest-hit months of COVID-19 restaurant closings, according to data from the state of Maine.
Almost 70% of all seafood consumed in the United States is consumed in a restaurant, most of which has been forced to close by government-mandated shutdown orders. At the same time, international sales dried up overnight as trade and transportation channels were closed.
The fallout for Maine’s lobster industry, estimated at $ 485 million per year, will likely be worse, as entertainment, dining and dining account for 80% of the industry’s markets, according to data from Maine Lobstermen’s Association. , the largest and oldest lobster trading group in the state.
“We are happy that fishermen in Maine are finally seeing direct relief,” said MLA Director Patrice McCarron. “The MP is grateful to the delegation from Maine. … Sadly, $ 20 million will not be enough to offset the economic hardship faced by Maine’s fishing industry due to (COVID-19).
Direct aid will help keep Maine’s fishing businesses intact so they can continue to employ the estimated 10,000 captains, crews and students who make up the Maine fishing fleet and 5,000 others employed on the Maine coast. in the industry’s lobster supply chain, noted McCarron, citing a Colby college study.
The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, a Brunswick-based nonprofit that is helping Maine fishermen seek financial assistance during the pandemic, echoed McCarron’s concerns. Director Ben Martens said he would not be close to healing the economic wounds inflicted on Maine’s iconic waterfront.
“Unfortunately, these resources are just a small blot on the giant economic hole this pandemic has created in the maritime economy,” he said. “Our hope is that (Maine) will do everything (he) to ensure that this much-needed support reaches fishermen on the docks and on the water.”
Federal lawmakers in Maine celebrated the news Thursday while vowing to seek more federal help.
The Congress delegation – the Senses. Susan Collins and Angus King and US Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden – released this joint statement: “This targeted aid will provide crucial support to workers, help our seafood supply chain survive and help dependent communities. of this important economic sector.
This week, Pingree joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers seeking an additional $ 20 billion for U.S. fisheries that would be used to fund direct aid to fishing families in disaster situations, buying surplus seafood for giving them to families in need; and developing markets and advertising to increase seafood consumption.
“The pandemic has exposed many underlying weaknesses in the global economy,” the group wrote on Tuesday in a letter to House of Commons leaders. “(He) stressed the importance of taking action not only to consolidate the economic health of fishing families and their communities, but also to put in place the necessary infrastructure to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of the fishing communities. American fisheries. “
Separately on Thursday, Collins and King joined a bipartisan group of 25 senators to urge the Senate leadership to include an additional $ 3 billion for the nation’s fishermen and seafood processors in the next coronavirus relief legislation.
Specifically, senators recommend allocating $ 2 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase and redistribute seafood to food banks, and an additional $ 1 billion – on top of the $ 300 million from the CARES law – to NOAA to support direct payments to fishermen. , processors, resellers and other players in the seafood supply chain.