COVID-19: Resources for aquaculture farmers and seafood harvesters

Most seafood in the United States is eaten in restaurants. The social distancing measures being taken to stifle the spread of the coronavirus have heavily impacted the restaurant business and by extension the seafood sector. Below we try to summarize some of the programs available to help businesses respond to this crisis. We will do our best to keep this information up to date.

Unemployment Coverage for the Self-Employed (many fishermen and/or growers)

Self-employed individuals can now apply for Massachusetts unemployment benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.  It is an online application. A list of the information needed to apply, and a link to the online application can be found here: https://www.mass.gov/how-to/apply-for-pandemic-unemployment-assistance

Financial Resources for Aquaculture & Seafood Businesses

Small Business Administration

The best source of information on the status of assistance or loans available is the Small Business Administration (SBA) itself.

The different types of loan programs available through the SBA are summarized here:
https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options

Updates on the status of the SBA Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program can be found here: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

The SBA resumed accepting Paycheck Protection Program applications from participating lenders on Monday, April 27, 2020 at 10:30am EDT. 

As of May 19 the statement on the SBA website about the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is: 

SBA will begin accepting new Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and EIDL Advance applications on a limited basis only to provide relief to U.S. agricultural businesses. 

The new eligibility is made possible as a result of the latest round of funds appropriated by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Agricultural businesses includes those businesses engaged in the production of food and fiber, ranching, and raising of livestock, aquaculture, and all other farming and agricultural related industries (as defined by section 18(b) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 647(b)). 
  • SBA is encouraging all eligible agricultural businesses with 500 or fewer employees wishing to apply to begin preparing their business financial information needed for their application. 

At this time, only agricultural business applications will be accepted due to limitations in funding availability and the unprecedented submission of applications already received.  Applicants who have already submitted their applications will continue to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. For agricultural businesses that submitted an EIDL application through the streamlined application portal prior to the legislative change, SBA will process these applications without the need for re-applying. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a fact sheet that can help you determine if you are eligible and how to think about how big or small of a loan to apply for:  https://www.savingseafood.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Small-Business-Guide-and-Checklist.pdf

Farm Credit East provided a webinar on the Paycheck Protection Program: https://www.farmcrediteast.com/knowledge-exchange/Webinars/paycheck-protection-program

Internal Revenue Service

The IRS has made an Employee Retention Credit available for businesses impacted by COVID-19.

https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-employee-retention-credit-available-for-many-businesses-financially-impacted-by-covid-19

US Department of Labor

Paid Leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic

US Department of Agriculture

The USDA Farm Service Agency also continues to offer loan programs, often available with low interest.  You can contact the Wareham office at (508) 295-5151 ext. 7252.  Dawn M. Wilhelmsen is the farm loan manager.

Help from a Person with Sorting Through and Applying for the SBA Programs and other Business Assistance Programs

SCORE
SCORE has a Cape and Islands chapter and offers small business mentorship, including assistance with emergency loan packages. They are scheduling meetings via phone, email, or video.
To connect with a business mentor start here : https://capecod.score.org/
SCORE is also maintaining a webpage with many resources for small businesses: https://capecod.score.org/resource/coronavirus-emergency-loans-and-benefits-small-business

Community Development Partnership
If you live and work in the communities of Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, Chatham, Brewster, or Harwich then you are in the service area of this organization.
For assistance with SBA programs contact Pam Anderson, Director of Business and Credit Programs at 508-240-7873 X 18 or pam@capecdp.org
CDP is also maintaining a webpage full of resources: https://capecdp.org/covid-19-emergency-resources-1

Fishing Partnership Support Services 
This organization supports the health, safety, and quality of life of fishing families.  The Cape Cod Navigators for FPSS are Shannon Eldredge and Morgan Eldredge and can be contacted through this link: http://fishingpartnership.org/about/navigators-and-offices/
FPSS webpage of resources: https://fpcovid19.org/

Keeping Yourself up to Date on Available Relief Programs & Assistance

The Mass Aquaculture Association and the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association send regular email updates to their members with information about the financial relief opportunities and related announcements.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts maintains a webpage about relief for businesses:
https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-resources-and-guidance-for-businesses

The MA Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) has compiled a list of resources available including funding opportunities https://www.mass.gov/guides/covid-19-resources-for-agriculture

Saving Seafood is a non-profit organization that conducts media and public relations outreach on behalf of the seafood industry, and communications to keep industry members aware of issues and events of concern.
They have compiled COVID-19 Response and Aid Information specific to the seafood industry.
They also regularly post seafood related news specific to the New England Region: https://www.savingseafood.org/tag/new-england/

The National Sea Grant Law Center has summarized resources available.

The Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is maintaining a page of updates and resources: https://www.capecodfishermen.org/item/covid19

Direct Relief for Fishery Participants

The CARES Act provided $300 million for direct relief to “fishery participants” which “include Tribes, persons, fishing communities, aquaculture businesses”. 

This will cover: 
(1) economic revenue losses greater than 35 percent as compared to the prior 5-year average revenue; or  
(2) any negative impacts to subsistence, cultural, or ceremonial fisheries” related to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The MA Division of Marine Fisheries is determining how this program will be administered. It is uncertain how the 35% loss will be calculated, but if you would like to apply for this when available it would be wise to get your records in order for the last 5 years.  Records in general are going to be critical for any current or future relief (to show losses) so if you have the time do it now so you can be prepared as soon as funds become available. 

This funding will go from the federal NOAA Fisheries, to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and then to the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. 

For updates on this direct relief, check ASMFC website. As of May 19 they have not received the funding from NOAA Fisheries. 
http://www.asmfc.org/home/cares-act-resources 

Senator Markey is maintaining a page with updates for the fishing industry: https://www.markey.senate.gov/coronavirus-resources 

Exemption from Stay-At-Home Order

Those of you that need to service your farms or other food supply related operations, there is an exemption which is described here by the state if documentation is needed. https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-essential-services

Where to find seafood?  

Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is maintaining a list of open markets:

Or buy direct from the farm, here’s a list from the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association

For those with questions on seafood safety, there is an FAQ, from the National Fisheries Institute

Cape Cod BuyFresh Buy Local is maintaining a list of options for buying seafood locally – look on the last pages of this guide: https://www.buyfreshbuylocalcapecod.org/covid19/