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Business and Economy

Maine Fishermen Say They Missed Out On Pandemic Relief Program

Robert F. Bukaty
In this Wednesday, March 25, 2020, photo fishing trawlers are tied up in Portland Harbor in Portland, Maine.

Thousands of Maine fishermen and others in the seafood sector could have qualified for pandemic relief through the Paycheck Protection Program, but many were, apparently, unable to access the benefits before the money ran out.

Ben Martens is executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association. He says many of the industry's on-the-water workers did not realize they were likely to qualify for the forgivable loans and other assistance that was — briefly — made available through the Small Business Administration.

"Fishermen were just starting to realize there were opportunities for them to kind of work within this process. And now it's done. So there is a lot of concern that fishermen were left out," he says.

Martens' group had planned a webinar for New England fishermen Thursday afternoon explaining how to access the benefits. But it was called off the same day, after the government announced there was no funding left and it became clear the footrace to apply was over.

Martens and industry colleagues at the Maine Lobstermen's Association say many fishermen and other small seafood businesses were hampered by a lack of expertise in such applications, or didn't have relationships with banks that were pre-qualified to work with the SBA.

"It's not just the seafood industry. I'm sure we're going to be hearing these stories from a lot of these sectors of Maine's communities and the nation, but fishermen in particular because of — that their businesses look like were just at a disadvantaged from the start," Martens says.

The government did earmark $329 million in emergency aid for assistance to the seafood sector nationally. But that has yet to be released, and Martens is skeptical that much of that money will actually make it as far as Maine's docks. He and other industry advocates are encouraging Maine's congressional delegation to put more money in the now-defunct Payroll Protection Program, and find ways to ensure it gets into the hands of individual fishermen.