Supporting fishermen during COVID
By United States Senator Ed Markey
(Editor’s note: We asked US Senator Edward Markey to share his perspectives on efforts in Washington to support and protect our fisheries during this time of crisis -- an assessment of federal action to date, what has been beneficial so far, and what we might expect going forward. Here is his report.)
Growing up in Malden, summer vacations meant trips to Revere Beach with my family. Today, it means lots of trips to Kelly’s Roast Beef for fried clams.
But that was before the coronavirus pandemic and the health and economic crisis confronting the entire country. This year, Massachusetts seafood producers are facing one of their toughest fights yet, as the fishing industry has been hit hard by this unprecedented emergency.
Restaurants have shuttered and large export markets have been disrupted. Meanwhile, the industry is trying to gear up for the next fishing season, while looking out for the health and well-being of their families. In the U.S. Senate, I have been fighting on a bipartisan basis alongside Senator Elizabeth Warren and Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to secure dedicated economic assistance for the fishing and seafood industries in COVID-19 economic relief packages.
Thankfully, this bicoastal effort got results. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted into law on March 27, addressed a key component of this request by including $300 million in funding for fisheries disaster assistance.
Additionally, the CARES Act extended unemployment insurance to the self-employed, which will help self-employed fishermen on the Cape. It included $350 billion in funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and the Paycheck Protection Program. SBA loans can be used to cover boat loans and other expenses. The Paycheck Protection Program provides options for payroll assistance to help boat captains and other employers pay crewmembers and other important seafood industry workers, rather than having to furlough them.
To best take advantage of the financial options in this economic relief package, fishing companies, self-employed fishermen, shellfish harvesters, charter boat captains, processors, and other fishery participants should first apply for unemployment insurance, Small Business Administration loans, and the Paycheck Protection Program because that aid will likely be allocated much faster than Fisheries Disaster Assistance. Local organizations like the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, Fishing Partnership Support Services, and others have stepped up to help individuals and companies apply for these programs.
These loans and grants are just the beginning. I am continuing to fight for the fishing industry to make sure that the CARES Act is implemented quickly and fairly. On April 1, I wrote to NOAA with Senator Warren urging the agency to allocate Fisheries Disaster Assistance quickly, equitably, and transparently. On April 3, I led a group letter to the Department of Agriculture, asking for New England seafood to be included in any procurement programs established with $9.5 billion in CARES Act assistance to affected agricultural producers. I will continue to work with these agencies to make sure that our New England fishermen, processors, charter boats and other seafood providers get the support they need to ensure that our fisheries here in Massachusetts do not go bankrupt at the dock. Together, we can ensure our iconic fishing communities remain strong, vibrant places of business and make it through this crisis.
If you have any follow-up questions, please contact my Boston office at 617-565-8519. In the Boston office, Claire Teylouni covers the North Shore and Boston. Nolan O'Brien covers the South Coast, Cape Cod & the Islands, and the South Shore.
We must stand together through this pandemic to make sure our historic fishing fleet and working waterfronts, the bedrock of so many different traditions in Massachusetts, thrive in perpetuity.