More than 200 independent fishermen, seafood businesses, and their advocates sent a letter on 4 May to members of the Trump administration and key congressional leaders urging them to help the struggling industry, and make them aware of the plight smaller ventures face due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The letter thanks the officials for their efforts so far, including the USD 300 million (EUR 276.8 million) in disaster relief assistance provided in the CARES Act. However, they added that more is needed to offset “the unprecedented losses” suffered recently, and what they expect will happen in the coming months.
“We’re seeing thousands of independent fishermen suddenly on the brink of losing their homes and boats as a result of COVID-19. We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for a lifeboat to carry us through the economic turmoil so that we can continue to work hard and help feed millions of people, including our own families,” Louisiana shrimper Lance Nacio said in a statement accompanying the letter.
The coalition of fishing interests, which claim to represent about three million Americans, wants the federal government to allocate USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.38 billion) more in fishing industry relief, with at least half the funds earmarked for small- and mid-sized businesses.
“Like the agriculture sector, which has received billions of dollars in disaster relief, the seafood sector plays a vital role in providing food security for the nation and deserves a sizable allocation of dedicated relief funds,” the letter states.
In addition, they seek priority status for fishing captains and young fishermen for COVID-19 relief programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. They say PPP loans should also be extended to fishermen who can “demonstrate an inability” to pay employees or independent contractors because of the pandemic.
With commercial fishing being deemed an essential operation, the coalition also wants fishing boats and processing plants outfitted with free personal protective equipment, and they seek free testing and medical care for workers.
“They are putting their lives at risk by leaving their homes to work during the pandemic, and at a minimum, should not be denied access to testing or be forced to bear the burden of exorbitant medical bills in the event that they require treatment,” the letter stated.
Lastly, the letter urges the fishing industry’s inclusion in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s USD 19 billion (EUR 17.52 billion) Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which includes billions in direct aid to farmers and ranchers and millions in funding for Section 32 funding.
While the USDA announced USD 70 million (EUR 64.6 million) in Section 32 seafood purchases on 4 May, the group wants fishermen to have access to the same direct aid that farmers and ranchers will receive.
The letter was sent to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, with copies sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Senate and House majority and minority leaders, as well as the top Appropriations Committee members in both parties.
Photo courtesy of photomatz/Shutterstock