PPP loans helped buoy Maine’s lobster industry through the spring

Maine lobster businesses, both large and small, received emergency funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program to help them survive the economic crisis wrought by the coronavirus’ global spread this spring.

The lobstering sector was the top recipient in Maine of forgivable PPP loans of less than USD 150,000 (EUR 130,000), with around USD 14.9 million (EUR 12.9 million) offered to 1,358 Maine lobstermen, according to the Portland Press Herald. But the average loan to lobster fishermen was USD 10,900 (EUR 9,400) each, a total that won’t help many survive the season if low dock prices and weak export markets continue, according to Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

“A lot of people got very small loans that helped in the short term, at the start of the crisis, but now the crisis is dragging on and lobstering season hasn’t even really started,” Martens said. “USD 10,000 is nice if you’re struggling, but not enough if you’re suffering.”

According to the Press Herald, wholesale lobster prices are down 40 percent from this time last year, with domestic fine-dining establishments, casinos, and cruise ships all still closed or just reopening with severe restrictions. And global markets for lobster have been decimated by COVID-19 and by trade wars initiated by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Individual fishermen struggled with applying for the PPP program, citing a lack of clear program guidelines, according to the Press Herald. Some received rejections due to their business status as sole proprietors, while others chose not to apply after hearing they faced restrictions in how they could use the money. And sternmen and deckhands were initially ineligible for the PPP program, and were only allowed to apply after most of the PPP money was spent. Many ended up filing for unemployment, according to the Press Herald.

However, a number of larger lobster businesses in the state received significant funding from the PPP program, with four businesses receiving between USD 350,000 and USD 1 million (EUR 302,000 and EUR 865,000): Carver Shellfish Inc., Maine Shellfish Co. Inc., Greenhead Lobster LLC, and Maine Coast Shellfish LLC.

Business receiving between USD 150,000 and USD 350,000 (EUR 130,000 and EUR 302,000) include: Cape Porpoise Lobster Co., Taylor Lobster Co. LLC., Bean Maine Lobster Inc., Greenhead Lobster Products LLC, Lobster 207 LLC, Mill Cove Lobster Pound Inc., Maine Lobster Outlet LLC, Harbor Fish Market, S&M Fisheries Inc. (The Lobster Co.), Higs Co. Inc. (Island Seafood), O.W. & B.S. Look Inc. (Look Lobster), Freedom Fish LLC, Math-Copper LLC (Bob’s Seafood), Bristol Seafood LLC, Browne Trading Co., A C Seafood Ltd. (Nova Seafoods), Shucks Maine Lobster LLC, Maine Seafood Ventures LLC (Ready Seafood), Sea Salt Products LLC, Acadia Seafood LLC, Maine Lobster Now LLC, and D.C. Air & Seafood.

Separately, in May, Maine received USD 20 million (EUR 17.3 million) in CARES Act funding specifically earmarked for the seafood industry. Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher told the Press Herald the state has yet to determine how it will spend the cash, but warned relief checks to individuals in the industry would probably be limited to about USD 4,000 (EUR 3,500), as the total will be divvied up between the state’s wild-catch, aquaculture, and charter sectors.

Keliher, the chairman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, in a letter sent 26 June, requested an additional USD 1.3 billion (EUR 1.1 billion) from Congress to aid the region’s commercial and recreational fishing industries.

“Demand for this financial relief far outpaces the amount appropriated by Congress,” Keliher wrote.

Photo courtesy of spwidoff/Shutterstock


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