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Aquaculture Businesses Now Eligible For Pandemic Relief Funds

Shellfish and seaweed growers in Maine are in line for a new round of federal coronavirus relief funds. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says the USDA is expanding the list of producers who can qualify for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to include aquaculture businesses nationwide.

The executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association, Sebastian Belle, says the state’s growing aquaculture sector missed out on the program’s initial funding, but now can join farmers and ranchers to apply for a share of the latest $14 billion allotment.

“The impact on particularly our shellfish growers was so big in the marketplace that we knew particularly some of the new smaller growers were likely not to going survive this. And that’s what really drove our advocacy with the delegation and at the national level with the secretary,” he says.

Belle is crediting U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, in particular, for a sustained push on the USDA to expand eligibility to several “specialty” crops, which could include some blueberry operations. Belle says that for qualifying aquaculture the assistance should be significant, but the details have yet to be released.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.