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  • Writer's pictureBen Martens

Impacts of COVID-19 on Maine's fishermen testimony & letter.

On Monday, May 18, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chair of the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee led a roundtable on how coronavirus has impacted fisheries around the country. Speakers include Members of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife; Steve Vilnit, Vice President of Marketing, Capital Seaboard; Ashley Nichole Lewis Owner, Bad Ash Fishing; and, Ben Martens, Executive Director, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

You can see the video HERE. (MCFA appears around minute 26.)

Letter from Ben Martens, Executive Director:

While no one wishes for hard times like the ones we are experiencing, one way through them is to look for opportunities that may lie before us. At MCFA we are doing just that. Recently, we've had opportunities to raise the profile of Maine's fishermen on a national level by sharing their stories of how they are facing the challenges to their businesses brought on by the pandemic.

At the invitation of the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, I was able to deliver a message recently on behalf of Maine's nearly 5,000 fishermen, that with continued federal support our fishermen can afford to fish and become a sought-after solution for feeding thousands of hungry people.

The subcommittee also heard from other panelists involved in fishing and processing that the first stimulus amount, $300 million, was a promising start but not nearly enough to keep our fleets afloat. Maine received $20 million and while that provided a short-term stop-gap for our small-business fishing boat owners to pay bills, the long term requires much more support.

As the lead organization of the Fishing Communities Coalition, MCFA represents our fishermen's voices alongside those from Cape Cod, the Gulf of Mexico, the West Coast and Alaska in arguing that seafood, next to agriculture, is undervalued and underutilized as an important source of nutrition, and as such we are advocating for a much larger piece of the next proposed stimulus package being crafted in the House.

We believe now is the time for our nation to step up to invest in our fishermen, the working waterfronts, and in our food supply. More direct relief will enable our fleets to bring in rich catches from fish stocks made abundant through the collective rebuilding work of scientists, fisheries managers, and fishermen. There are more than 100 million pounds of seafood waiting to be caught and which can be a direct and simple solution for providing healthy protein to people's plates and introducing them to the diversity seafood offers.

Clearly we could not succeed in our work without the dedicated support of Maine's delegation while the pandemic rages on and Maine’s seafood industry looks for innovative ways to survive. We want to thank them and recognize the successful efforts of Sens. King and Collins and Reps. Pingree and Golden, and their staffs, to advocate for the men and women of the state's seafood industry, which represents more than a half-billion dollars of Maine's economy.

We are also grateful for the volunteer support of financial experts from Coastal Enterprises Inc., University of Southern Maine, and SCORE who explained the stimulus application guidelines to more than 230 fishermen, crew, and related seafood industry business owners during MCFA's recent webinar on how to access grants and loans. Our staff continues to be available to them as they navigate what can be a complicated system.

We are in this together, for the long haul. There is no short-term solution to economic recovery, even if the pandemic were to come to a halt tomorrow. Shoulder to socially-distanced shoulder, we are working with our fishermen and their communities to overcome these unprecedented challenges and be healthier and stronger on the other side. We hope you will join us in this important work.

Together, we persevere.


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