Maryland Delegation Calls for NOAA to Expedite Distribution of Relief Funds for U.S. Fisheries

WASHINGTON, DC - Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) and the full Maryland Congressional Delegation, including Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Andy Harris, M.D., Anthony G. Brown, Jamie B. Raskin, and David Trone, have written to Wilber Ross, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and Chris Oliver, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), urging coordination with states to quickly allocate assistance and inclusion of Maryland’s value-added seafood processors in relief aid set aside in the CARES Act for fisheries.

“Stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, closures of non-essential business, and other measures that are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19 during this public health emergency have reduced patronage at restaurants. The global shipping system has also slowed considerably. These market factors have resulted in drastic decreases in wholesale prices for seafood. A cascade effect of the pandemic has been a slowdown in distribution, processing and fishing,” the Delegation explained. Any recent market growth and “the mostly small and family-owned businesses that comprise Maryland’s seafood industry, is threatened due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

The lawmakers went on to request that “[v]alue added processors should be included among eligible recipients, unless that value added activity is extremely tangential, to capture the full seafood supply chain.” Maryland companies that primarily process fish and shellfish such as crabs, clams, oysters and iconic crab cakes for restaurants and groceries stores have in turn been greatly affected by the national health crisis.

Fisheries stakeholders interested in sharing information on the effects of COVID-19 on their businesses can submit that information to NMFS.COVID-19@noaa.gov

Click here to read the full letter or see below.

The Honorable Wilbur Ross
Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20230

The Honorable Chris Oliver
Assistant Administrator
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Dear Secretary Ross and Assistant Administrator Oliver:

          The appropriations division of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, the third bipartisan coronavirus aid and economic relief agreement, contains $300 million to help U.S. fisheries negatively impacted by disappearing economic markets caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants, as well as aquaculture farmers, are all eligible for the disaster assistance. We request that NOAA coordinate with States in order to allocate this much-needed assistance as quickly as possible.

          Stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, closures of non-essential business, and other measures that are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19 during this public health emergency have reduced patronage at restaurants. The global shipping system has also slowed considerably. These market factors have resulted in drastic decreases in wholesale prices for seafood. A cascade effect of the pandemic has been a slowdown in distribution, processing and fishing.

          Maryland’s seafood markets reach well beyond state borders and include national and international sales. In 2017, the commercial landing values of Maryland seafood was over $82 million and the seafood industry contributed over $600 million to our State’s economy. A new economic analysis found that Maryland’s oyster aquaculture operations contribute an average of $9 million per year to the state economy and have grown by nearly 25 percent annually since 2012 (van Senten et al., 2019). However, that growth, as well as the mostly small and family-owned businesses that comprise Maryland’s seafood industry, is threatened due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

          Section 12005 of the CARES Act authorizes the Department of Commerce to provide $300 million in assistance to fishery participants, including Tribes, individuals, fishing communities, aquaculture businesses not otherwise eligible for emergency agricultural disaster assistance programs, processors, or other fishery-related businesses that have absorbed a minimum 35-percent revenue loss, or negative impacts to subsistence, cultural, or ceremonial fisheries, as a result of COVID-19. Value added processors should be included among eligible recipients, unless that value added activity is extremely tangential, to capture the full seafood supply chain.

          We appreciate your ongoing efforts to secure and enhance the resilience of the U.S. commercial seafood and fishing industries. We stand ready to work with you on this important, unprecedented COVID-19-related response. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

          Sincerely,

For more information about our releases, please contact Annaliese Davis at 202-225-4131.
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