ME - Aquaculture Industry Qualifies for Relief
ELLSWORTH — If it wasn’t clear before last week, there’s a big election just a few weeks away.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it was releasing some $530 million appropriated by Congress last March under the CARES Act to assist the beleaguered U.S. seafood industry and fishermen damaged by retaliatory tariffs imposed primarily by China and the European Union on imports of U.S. live and processed seafood.
Total payments to Maine lobstermen based on 2019 landings figures could reach $50 million. The total initially available to Maine fish farmers was zero.
Last week, the aquaculture industry got a chance to share in federal relief funds, but whether most Maine fish farmers will benefit is open to question.
On Friday, the USDA announced an expansion of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to include eligible aquaculture producers. Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 (CFAP 2) will provide producers, including eligible aquaculture operations, with financial assistance of up to $250,000 per individual or entity to help them “absorb some of the increased marketing costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
According to the announcement last week, aquaculture eligible for the program includes any species of aquatic organisms grown as food for human consumption, fish raised as feed for fish that are consumed by humans and ornamental fish propagated and reared in an aquatic medium. Eligible aquacultural species must be raised by a commercial operator and in water “in a controlled environment.”
And there’s the rub. The full USDA announcement refers to “a controlled environment including raceways, ponds, tanks and recirculating systems.” It does not say anything about species commonly raised in Maine such as oysters, mussels, scallops and seaweed that are raised on lease sites in the state’s coastal waters. Some of those species — oysters and mussels, for example — may be raised spread loose on the sea floor. Shellfish and seaweed also may be grown on hanging lines anchored in the open water or in floating bags and cages that may sometimes be placed on the bottom.