Federal regulators have disputed Maine’s plan to distribute $20 million in coronavirus relief to the state seafood industry by saying that individual recipients, not the fishery as a whole, must demonstrate a 35 percent revenue loss this past spring before they can qualify for assistance, officials said Thursday.
Maine Commissioner of Marine Resources Patrick Keliher had said on Tuesday that after some frustrating delays, state and federal officials were nearing agreement on exactly how to allocate the funds, by the end of October, from the federal CARES Act.
But newly-announced regulations are delaying the dispersal of funds, he said.
Maine has been in line to get $20 million, the fifth-highest amount of money out of the 31 states to receive fishing-industry bailout funding, since the allocation was first announced in May, but disputes over how to distribute the funds have slowed its dispersal.
The award comes out of the $300 million in federal funding included in the CARES Act to help the U.S. fishing industry survive the economic losses associated with the coronavirus pandemic. The $20 million is the 5th largest amount given to the 31 states whose fishing industries qualified for aid, officials have said.
The latest snag started Tuesday, when Keliher announced that individual fishing license holders and shellfish growers who qualify will get the same lump-sum payment, no matter how large or small the operation. The funds will go to seafood-sector businesses that lost at least 35 percent of their revenues compared with the same period in previous years due to the closure of restaurants, casinos and cruise ships that were the backbone of lobster and other seafood sales, he 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.”
To help fishermen demonstrate the 35 percent loss, the Maine Department of Marine Resources is doing an analysis to determine if its data will be enough to certify the loss at the level of the individual. If it can, about 7,500 licensed commercial fishing license holders won’t have to do it themselves, but dealers, processors, aquaculturists and for-hire guides will still need to self-certify the loss due to a lack of data at DMR, Keliher said.
“Unlike many other sources of relief in the CARES Act, this particular pot of money has some fairly strict requirements,” Keliher said.
Those who can prove eligibility will likely have to apply, and have the right to appeal disputed allocations, in October, with Kelliher saying he hoped payments would go out in November.
The industry has been reeling since the pandemic safeguards that shut down restaurants came into play in March, because nearly 70 percent of all seafood eaten in the U.S. is consumed in a restaurant. Over the same time period, international seafood sales have dried up overnight as trade and transportation channels have been shut down.