Commercial fishing license holders, shellfish growers and fishing guides that lost at least 35 percent of sales due to the pandemic are in line for a lump sum payment of about $2,000 each under a plan being hammered out by federal and state regulators.
Commissioner of Marine Resources Patrick Keliher says that after some frustrating delays, final agreement is close on exactly how to allocate $20 million the federal CARES Act made available for the state’s seafood industry.
Keliher says that despite rumors circulating on social media that the funds might be diverted away from the industry, the money will indeed go straight to individual seafood businesses in Maine.
“That is all ridiculous. The money will be distributed,” he says. “Industry will be hearing from us. The industry likes to complain about bureaucracy all the time; well here I am complaining about the bureaucracy of the federal government allowing us to get this money out as quickly as we can.”
About three-quarters of the funds — $15.6 million — will go to commercial fishing license holders, boat-for-hire operations and aquaculture farms, for a projected benefit of $2,118 each depending on how many qualify. Most of the rest — $3.4 million — is slated for seafood dealers and processors, who are projected to receive $6,298 each. And DMR will use $1 million for a regional seafood marketing campaign.
Keliher says the goal now is to get the checks struck by the end of October.
“The need is likely there for even more relief in the long run,” he says. “But we need to get this out on the ground and then figure out what the picture is like as we approach the end of the year and then see if we need to go back to congress and ask for more.”
Keliher emphasizes that the exact value of the lump-sum benefit will depend on exactly how many businesses in each of the two major categories qualify for the funds, with each one getting an equal share of the total. DMR will use its own landings data to calculate and certify qualification for sectors that provide that information.
Others such as dealers, from whom the state does not collect such data, will need to self-certify under threat of penalty for false filings. Keliher notes that the feds are requiring an assertion that the benefit would not make a business “more than whole” when added to payments from augmented unemployement assistance and other pandemic relief programs.
Keliher says once the feds approve the plan, the department will notify license-holders and other potential beneficiaries of their options.
Originally published at 3:59 p.m. September 1, 2020.