Golden, Graves Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Allow Fisheries Disaster Declarations Due to COVID-19, Future Pandemics

June 11, 2020
Press Release
Current relief for fisheries, passed as part of the CARES Act in March, has been woefully inadequate, too slow to reach fishermen

Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Maine Lobstermen’s Union, Maine Lobstermen’s Association call Golden’s legislation “necessary,” “common-sense”, and could “provide desperately needed resources”

WASHINGTON — Congressmen Jared Golden (ME-02) and Garret Graves (LA-06) introduced bipartisan legislation today to make additional disaster relief available to thousands of fishermen whose businesses are harmed by a pandemic. The legislation would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act to allow fisheries disasters to be declared due to pandemic, such as COVID-19. 

A fisheries disaster declaration uses an established process for appropriating and distributing federal relief funds to fisheries and fishing communities during an unexpected event that causes significant losses. The same process was used to provide relief to fisheries following disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. 

“For the last few months, many Maine fishermen and lobstermen have had almost nowhere to sell their catch because COVID-19 has nearly shut down demand for fresh seafood all over the world,” said Golden. “Coronavirus is just as much of a disaster for this fishery as it would be if a Category 5 hurricane hit, and our lobstering and fishing communities deserve the same relief fisheries receive for other disasters. My bipartisan bill with Congressman Graves would make pandemics an allowable reason to declare a fisheries disaster, opening up a process to direct federal relief funds to affected fishing communities. Lobstermen and fishermen need this support right now, and the need will only grow if a second outbreak of COVID-19 happens this fall.” 

“We can have great, wild American seafood or we can import it from foreign fish farms or through unsustainable practices,” Graves said. “In Louisiana, one out of every 70 jobs depends on the fishing industry, which generates billions of dollars annually through commercial and recreational fishing.  Fishing serves as the economic engine of many coastal communities – the heartbeat of our nation’s economy. If we are going to enjoy the resources American fishers provide, then we need to make investments to help our anglers.”

Maine’s fishing industry has received just $20 million in COVID-19 relief funds. This is woefully inadequate when the most recent data collected by the Maine Department of Marine Resources shows that landings by Maine’s commercial fishing industry were valued at $673 million. Declaration of a fisheries disaster would provide Maine with a new avenue to seek federal relief. Although the exact amount Maine would receive under a disaster declaration is dependent on a request from the governor, fisheries are commonly awarded tens of millions of dollars for their disaster declarations.  

The total economic impact the fishing industry has on Maine exceeds $1 billion when accounting for the shoreside businesses - seafood processors and distributors, vessel and gear manufacturers, and restaurants - that employ thousands of Mainers each year. Reporting over the past few months has found dramatic falls in the prices for lobster, elvers, and other lucrative species as both international and domestic markets closed due to COVID-19. 

Organizations representing lobstermen and other Maine fishermen announced their support for the measure: 

“This pandemic is absolutely a disaster for the men and women working our lobster fishery. Our members are seeing their way of life under threat from all sides and they’re sick of politicians who don’t understand their problems coming in with fake solutions. Congressman Golden’s bill would provide lobstermen with a proven way to access relief funds and help our members stay in business during this pandemic. We know our brothers and sisters in other fisheries are facing similar challenges, and we’re glad this is a nationwide, bipartisan solution.” - Dave Sullivan, Grand Lodge Representative, International Association of Machinists, Maine Lobstering Union, Local 207 

“We’ve seen farmers and airline industries get hundreds of billions in relief to help them weather the coronavirus. But Maine’s lobstermen, who bring over a billion dollars in economic activity to Maine each year, received less than $20 million in relief, which must be shared with all of Maine's fisheries. This sum does not come close to meeting the needs of lobstermen now, and falls well short of what our fishery will need to make a full recovery. Our lobstering communities are facing a crisis. We strongly support Rep. Golden’s common-sense legislation to allow a fisheries disaster declaration in the case of this pandemic and provide desperately needed resources to keep our industry afloat.” - Patrice McCarron, Executive Director, Maine Lobstermen’s Association

“COVID-19 continues to be a disaster for Maine fisheries. To protect fishing communities from further economic damage and to help them recover, we must recognize the unique issues that fishermen are dealing with that other small businesses don't need to navigate. Unlike most industries, relief programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment insurance aren’t built to work for fishermen and their small-scale, owner-operated businesses along the coast. The fisheries disaster declaration made possible by Congressman Golden’s legislation is necessary to allow fishermen to get additional relief that is tailored to their needs and addresses the real issues fishing communities face from coronavirus and any future pandemics.” - Ben Martens, Executive Director, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association

Read the text of Golden and Graves’ legislation here.

Find a complete list of previous fisheries disaster declarations here.