Citing the “substantial toll” the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on Maine’s independent fishermen, acquaculturists, wholesale dealers, and seafood processors, Governor Janet Mills pressed President Donald Trump to marshal the resources of the federal government to support Maine’s vital fishing and seafood industries.
In a letter to the President, Governor Mills specifically requested that the Trump Administration consider direct financial assistance, subsidies, and operating loans or loan deferment, among other possible measures, “to help our seafood industry survive this unprecedented moment”.
“I am writing today to ask for your immediate assistance in support of Maine’s iconic seafood industry. The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a substantial toll on Maine’s independent fishermen, aquaculturists, wholesale dealers, and seafood processors,” wrote Governor Mills. “The markets for their products are collapsing both globally and locally. The men and women who ply our waters harvesting lobster, groundfish, herring, shellfish, countless other species, and farming aquacultured products are the very backbone of our rural coastal economy.”
Governor Mills noted that Maine’s fishermen are the economic lifeblood of their community, but they are not eligible for unemployment because of their status as independent operators.
“In the short-term, harvesters have only limited opportunities within their communities to sell small quantities of product in the hopes of earning just enough money to buy weekly groceries,” wrote Governor Mills. “In the long-term, it is clear that the collapse of the international and larger domestic markets will devastate Maine’s commercial fisheries.”
In 2019, Maine’s fishing industry generated a value for harvesters and aquaculture operators of more than $673 million which translates to approximately $2 billion in overall value when accounting for the value added by dealers and processors.
Maine lobster harvesters, who in 2019 generated more than $485 million in landed value, are facing severely reduced prices due to market loss which could total $50 million for the first half of 2020, and more as the loss of markets grows, Governor Mills noted.
She also observed that ground fishermen face the potential loss of leased quota during one of the most lucrative periods of the year, while shellfish aquaculturists and Maine’s softshell clam harvesters, whose 2019 harvest was valued at $18, anticipate revenue losses of least 50 percent.
Maine’s elver fishery, the second most valuable in 2019 at $20 million, is facing market disruptions that Governor Mills explained are projected to reduce the value by 90 percent. The Northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishery will also be impacted by market loss with a projected 50 percent loss in value.
“I hope you can appreciate how reliant our coastal communities are on the revenues these resources produce. It is the lifeblood of our rural coastline, and these individuals have no other options to sustain their way of life,” she wrote.