Lengthy Process, Little to Show for Connecticut Fisheries

The deadline to apply for the funding is Oct. 30

Nearly seven months after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law, eligible fisheries and related businesses can apply for $1.8 million in economic aid through the CARES Assistance to Fishery Participants (CAAFP) program.

On March 27, the CARES Act authorized U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to allocate $300 million in financial assistance to states, tribes and territories with coastal and marine fisheries that were negatively impacted by COVID-19.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) then made awards to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Connecticut is part of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), which also includes Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

From the $300 million, 31 entities received funding. Connecticut’s allocation was $1.8 million, the 9th lowest on the list. Rhode Island received $3.3 million, New York received $6.7 million, New Jersey received $11.3 million, and Massachusetts received $28 million. Alaska and Washington received the highest amounts at $50 million each. 

According to a timeline assembled by the state Department of Energy and Environment Protection, only commercial, for-hire, aquaculture, seafood processors, “other fishery-related businesses” were eligible for the funding and that applicants “must have incurred a greater than 35% revenue loss in 2020 relative to 2015-19 to qualify for aid.”

Justin Davis, assistant director of the department’s Fisheries Division, said in a phone call on Oct. 16 that the legislation offered little detail on eligibility or implementation.

In April, Davis said, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service worked with the federal Office of Management and Budget to determine how the program would be implemented.

On May 7, NOAA announced the allocations of funding to the individual states and on May 8 the agency advised the states to develop a “spend plan” for NOAA approval. 

For the months of May and June, Davis said DEEP and the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Aquaculture, which administers aid to the aquaculture industry, collaborated on a spend plan and program criteria, which was a different process from other disaster relief programs.

“Normally these are prepackaged with criteria for the application,” said Davis. “This one was left open to meet each state’s needs, but it was far more work to get it done. Usually these are aimed at a specific sector and this one included all fishing sectors in the state, which vary quite a bit. It was a challenging lift to stand this up,” he said. 

On July 2, Davis and his group initiated a 17-day comment period and made changes to the spend plan based on that feedback from the public. On Aug. 7, DEEP submitted a draft spend plan to NOAA for review, which began a revision process until the Oct. 9 NOAA approval. 

“It was five months from start to finish with Connecticut solidly in the middle of the pack of the 14 Atlantic States,” he said. “I think six got approval before us.” 

The deadline to apply for the funding is Oct. 30. Davis said. 

“We wanted a tight deadline to keep the process moving, but we want to hear from businesses if they think the deadline is too tight,” said Davis. “We have to get all of the applications in to figure out how the funds will be allocated.” 

Davis said the $1.8 million does not come close to the losses in the state’s fishing industry, which he estimated at “tens of millions.” 

“I hope this will provide some meaningful relief versus spreading the funds too thin,” he said.

State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said the process of working with DEEP to create the criteria was quite involved.

“It’s never as quick as it needs to be, especially for commercial fishermen,” she said. 

She said the $1.8 million in aid was nowhere near sufficient.

“It’s like a drop in the bucket. These guys have not been able to work for months and months,” she said. “They still have to maintain their boats, pay their rent at the docks, pay their insurance, pay for their license — all those fixed costs that don’t go away.”

Latest from Cate Hewitt