Help for fishermen affected by the pandemic

by Nancy Beal

Ordinarily around 6 a.m. this time of year, those living near the coast would begin to hear boat engines come to life, as lobstermen came out of their winter cocoons and began setting and hauling their traps. Not this spring.

The sudden absence of demand for their product, brought on by a virus that has shuttered markets foreign and domestic, has removed the floor from the supply-and-demand price pattern that ordinarily governs the price of their product. With restaurants shuttered and international travel curtailed, it costs more today to go to haul than to stay home.

A few rays of hope have entered that bleak picture, however. Federal action last week ensured that stimulus checks would soon be in the bank accounts of Americans who earn less than $99,000 per year. In addition, the Paycheck Protection Act offers loans to cover payroll business expenses, some of which may be forgiven if the borrower meets certain Small Business Administration (SBA) guidelines. Additionally, the federal Economic Injury and Disaster Loan program offers SBA-backed loans. And money is available from NOAA’s Fisheries Disaster Relief Program.

Maine’s Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) also guarantees certain types of loans. Information on these programs can be found on the Department of Marine Resources website and that of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Also, never a workforce to be out-entrepreneured, some fishermen are taking advantage of outlets that enable them to direct-market their products. A couple of sites that offer suggestions on how to do this are the Maine Seafood Connection and Maine’s Working Waterfront-Seafood Connect.

More helpful information may be gleaned at www.mainecoastfishermen.org. Additionally, the recently passed federal pandemic relief bill allows independent contractors such as fishermen to apply for unemployment. FMI, visit www.maine.gov/unemployment.

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