ME - Maine hits stumbling block in effort to distribute pandemic aid to seafood industry
Individual fishermen, fishing charters and seafood dealers must demonstrate revenue losses before receiving checks, probably in November.
Maine’s plan to distribute the $20 million in COVID-19 relief earmarked for the state’s seafood industry is facing unexpected opposition from federal regulators who say individual recipients, not the fishery as a whole, must demonstrate a 35 percent revenue loss this spring before they can qualify for pandemic assistance.
All of the active licensed fishermen, aquaculturists and dealers in almost all of Maine’s commercial fisheries would have been eligible to receive a share of the state bailout fund under the fishery-by-fishery certification strategy proposed by the Maine Department of Marine Resources in July, Commissioner Pat Keliher said.
“However, later in our conversations, we were told that the 35 percent impact must be demonstrated at the level of the individual license holder,” Keliher said in an email to commercial fishermen on Thursday. “For some of you, that might be easy. Others may find it harder.”
The agency didn’t respond Thursday to questions about how many license holders could be ineligible using individual certification.
The continuing negotiations over the certification plan with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that must approve Maine’s seafood bailout plan, has delayed the distribution of Maine’s share of the $300 million relief fund for the U.S. seafood sector until at least November, a month later than hoped.
A NOAA spokesman did not respond to an email request for an interview about certification requirements Thursday afternoon.
In its draft plan, the Department of Marine Resources estimated that the average payout to one of its 7,400 commercial fishermen, aquaculturists or charter boat captains would have been about $2,100, and the average check cut to one of Maine’s 550 seafood processors or dealers would have been about $6,300. All fishermen would have gotten the same amount, regardless of their size, experience or past profits.