In a bipartisan effort, Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) on Thursday introduced legislation to make additional disaster relief available to thousands of fishermen whose businesses are harmed by a pandemic.
The legislation would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act to allow fisheries disasters to be declared due to pandemic, such as COVID-19.
“For the last few months, many Maine fishermen and lobstermen have had almost nowhere to sell their catch because COVID-19 has nearly shut down demand for fresh seafood all over the world,” Golden said. “Coronavirus is just as much of a disaster for this fishery as it would be if a Category 5 hurricane hit, and our lobstering and fishing communities deserve the same relief fisheries receive for other disasters. My bipartisan bill with Congressman Graves would make pandemics an allowable reason to declare a fisheries disaster, opening up a process to direct federal relief funds to affected fishing communities. Lobstermen and fishermen need this support right now, and the need will only grow if a second outbreak of COVID-19 happens this fall.”
A fisheries disaster declaration uses an established process for appropriating and distributing federal relief funds to fisheries and fishing communities during an unexpected event that causes significant losses.
To make the disaster declaration, a governor must request a fishery’s disaster declaration from the Commerce Secretary, along with a requested amount of relief funds for their fishery. If the Commerce Secretary agrees with the disaster declaration, in most cases the fishery is awarded the amount requested by the governor.
This process was used to provide relief to fisheries following disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
In May, the Maine fishing industry was awarded $20 million in federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But many industry leaders and members of the Maine Delegation said that funding was “woefully inadequate” to help the industry through the current crisis.
Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, previously told NEWS CENTER Maine that $20 million wouldn’t go far after it’s distributed to fishermen, seafood dealers, the working waterfront and all other fishing-related workers.
Martens said $20 million is “a nice start,” but that with a lobster industry previously worth half a billion dollars, “If we lose even a fraction of that, $20 million doesn’t even start to make us whole.”
“We’ve seen farmers and airline industries get hundreds of billions in relief to help them weather the coronavirus. But Maine’s lobstermen, who bring over a billion dollars in economic activity to Maine each year, received less than $20 million in relief, which must be shared with all of Maine’s fisheries,” Patrice McCarron, Executive Director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association said in a statement. “This sum does not come close to meeting the needs of lobstermen now, and falls well short of what our fishery will need to make a full recovery. Our lobstering communities are facing a crisis.”
The most recent data collected by the Maine Department of Marine Resources shows that landings by Maine’s commercial fishing industry were valued at $673 million.
“We can have great, wild American seafood or we can import it from foreign fish farms or through unsustainable practices,” Graves said. “In Louisiana, one out of every 70 jobs depends on the fishing industry, which generates billions of dollars annually through commercial and recreational fishing. Fishing serves as the economic engine of many coastal communities – the heartbeat of our nation’s economy. If we are going to enjoy the resources American fishers provide, then we need to make investments to help our anglers.”
Read the new legislation here:
Declaration of a fisheries disaster would provide Maine with a new avenue to seek federal relief. Although the exact amount Maine would receive under a disaster declaration is dependent on a request from the governor, fisheries are awarded the requested amount in most instances.
McCarron and Martens are among the industry leaders in Maine who say they support Golden’s legislation and say it’s necessary to get economic relief during the current and any future pandemic.
The total economic impact the fishing industry has on Maine exceeds $1 billion when accounting for the shoreside businesses: seafood processors and distributors, vessel and gear manufacturers, and restaurants that employ thousands of Mainers each year. Reporting over the past few months has found dramatic falls in the prices for lobster, elvers, and other lucrative species with both international and domestic markets shuttered.