Restaurant Closures and Plunging Seafood Prices Imperil Over 1.5m U.S. Jobs as Fishermen Struggle to Access Aid Programs
For Immediate Release: June 5, 2020
Contact: Ben Martens, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association
Brunswick, ME - President Donald Trump’s roundtable meeting with commercial fishermen in Bangor, Maine today comes at a critical moment for an industry in desperate need of immediate federal assistance to offset the severe health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a leading advocacy organization for Maine’s community-based fishermen.
“We hope the President’s visit today shines a national spotlight on the grave health and economic challenges facing fishermen here in Maine and across the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ben Martens, Executive Director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association (MCFA), a member of the Fishing Communities Coalition (FCC). “In far too many ways, our fishermen have been left behind in the federal response to this crisis. They need help now, and we strongly urge the President and Congress to continue the bipartisan tradition of fisheries policy and act before entire communities and fishing economies are wiped out.”
In a recent letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the MCFA and other FCC members representing over 1,000 fishermen from Maine to Alaska requested that $5.4 billion be included in upcoming relief funds for commercial fishermen, a figure equal to the dockside value of seafood landings in 2017, the most recent report by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Seventy to eighty percent of seafood in the United States is eaten at restaurants. When the restaurants closed, buyers told fishermen not to fish, prices fell dramatically — close to seventy percent for many species — and processors had to unload product at losses,” said Martens. “Many fishermen have tried to participate in other stimulus programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program and unfortunately unemployment, but these were not built to support the small-scale, owner-operated businesses we have along the coast. Even once the health crisis is over, the economic crisis will have a long tail that impacts our small fishing businesses and fishing families for years to come.”
In their letter to congress, the community fishing organizations wrote that while the $300 million included in the CARES Act is a “meaningful start,” it “is not nearly enough to begin to cover the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently devastating America’s commercial fishermen and fishing communities” and represents only a small fraction of the tens of billions of dollars of direct relief the agriculture sector has received during this pandemic.
The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association is an industry-led nonprofit working to enhance the ecological and financial sustainability of Maine fisheries through advocacy, education, outreach, and collaborative research projects. MCFA provides a voice for community-based fishermen while identifying and fostering ways to restore the Gulf of Maine and sustain Maine’s historic fishing communities for future generations.