Federal support for our fishing communities, working waterfronts & our seafood supply chain is essential to recover from COVID 19
The unprecedented economic impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on one of the essential American economic drivers – small businesses. Many Network members, including commercial fishing operators, guides, outfitters, processors, restaurants, and chefs are small businesses charting new courses to continue in business and provide our nation with sustainable, high quality, domestic seafood, as well as life affirming recreational opportunities.
As the COVID 19 pandemic remains a daily part of our lives and its effects become prolonged, we recently asked Congress to address several critical needs as it makes changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provides support our national seafood supply chain, and develops the federal government’s rebuilding plans for the economy.
The following are our recommendations:
Adjustments to the Paycheck Protection Program
Extend the loan forgiveness timeline
The current eight-week timeline for loan forgiveness is too short to provide meaningful relief for fishermen, restaurants, and seasonally operating businesses. During this brief period, many businesses will still be closed, or their fishing seasons may still be underway or, in some cases, have yet to start.
We recommend that the repayment period should begin when the businesses are legally allowed to reopen or respective fishing seasons have ended – and not on the date loans are received. We suggest allowing PPP recipients to use the funds for at least 16 weeks without loss of the loan forgiveness option.
Allow for flexibility on the limit on non-payroll expenses
Many fishing businesses are incurring additional costs to comply with federal, state, and local public health guidelines. These modifications are important for the protection of public health and consumer confidence, but they are particularly expensive in maritime and harbor applications. We believe businesses need additional flexibility to use more than 25% for non-payroll monthly expenses in the program (mortgage, rent, and utilities) and to be able to use funds for PPE or adaptive renovations.
Extend repayment time beyond the current two years
The severity of the crisis will make it difficult for businesses to repay loans in two years. We strongly believe the program needs additional flexibility so businesses have sufficient time to generate enough revenue to maintain their businesses and pay back any loans.
Rebuilding the economy
Congress and the administration will need to create additional, long-term policy initiatives. As Congress develops proposals for rebuilding the nation’s economy, we recommend addressing the following areas.
Support for direct-to-consumer infrastructure
Fishermen and processors have seen drastic reductions in sales because of the pandemic. The seafood industry is pivoting to direct-to-consumer models in order to meet the demand for locally sourced, high quality, domestic seafood. Federal investments in modernizing working waterfronts and increasing seafood supply infrastructure to bring quality seafood to consumers will directly benefit local fishing communities by creating jobs and retail channels. Congress should ensure that the economic gains made in the direct-to-consumer sector are preserved and strengthened as the nation recovers.
Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)
We recommend including fishermen in the USDA’s CFAP, which received $19 billion in funding in the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136). Our country’s fishermen play an equally significant role in harvesting and producing our nation’s food. As new rebuilding funding is appropriated for CFAP, we agree with the calls to include at least $2.78 billion to purchase domestically harvested and processed seafood products and distribute them to local, state, and national non-profits providing food to those Americans in need.
Section 12005 Funds
We support an additional $2.7 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the terms of section 12005 of the CARES Act in order to provide direct relief to tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants impacted by coronavirus. We encourage Congress to direct NOAA to establish clear and transparently derived allocation formulas, set clear guidelines for use of the funds, and distribute the funds within 30 days of the appropriation on such funds.
Support national seafood marketing initiatives
The U.S. has not convened or supported a national seafood promotion and marketing program since 1990. The revival of the National Fish and Seafood Promotional Council would support the fishing industry, restaurants, and consumers at this critical time and beyond as we recover. Congressionally authorized programs, including USDA’s Research and Promotion Programs, could be augmented to support our fisheries through legislative mandate.
We recommend that Congress work with members of the commercial fishing industry, culinary community, and the Marine Fisheries Advisory Council to expeditiously design and implement a robust, fiscally solvent and supported seafood promotion and marketing program.
At the Network we realize these issues are critically important to our nation’s fishermen, culinary industry, and seafood supply chains. The MFCN and its diverse membership will continue to work with Congress to take these and other supportive actions to ensure that the small businesses that make up our working waterfronts and coastal communities continue to survive now and into the future.
Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County Harbor District, CA.