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Maine lobstermen prepare for uncertain summer season, hoping for further federal relief

Lobster traps are piled in the foreground Sept. 21, 2017, near the commercial wharf in Portland, Maine.

(The Center Square) – More than 1,300 lobstermen in Maine – about 1 in 3 – received forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with the majority amounting to roughly $10,900.

It may not be enough to sustain fishermen through an already uncertain summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, told the Portland Press Herald.

“A lot of people got very small loans that helped in the short term, at the start of the crisis, but now the crisis is dragging on and lobstering season hasn’t even really started,” Martens said.

New data from the U.S. Small Business Administration shows that altogether, Maine’s lobster industry received roughly $24 million in PPP funding, the most given to any business concern in the state; dine-in restaurants, beauty salons, real estate, and home building received the next highest amounts.

While the bulk of the fishing sector money – nearly $15 million – went to fishermen, some dealers, retailers and processors received loans between $150,000 and $1 million.

The Herald published a list showing the top amounts – ranging from $350,000 to $1 million – went to Carver Shellfish Inc., Greenhead Lobster LLC, Maine Coast Shellfish LLC, and Maine Shellfish Co. Inc.

With recent lobster prices roughly $3.50 per pound – lower than last year but comparable to 2018 – many lobstermen face uncertainty as demand from restaurants, casinos, and cruise ships has declined.

Still, even if PPP funding to individual fishermen was relatively low, it has helped with some preparations for the height of the fishing season by covering the cost of bait and other essentials.

In May, Maine also received $20 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding for the seafood industry.

Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher told the Herald the state has not determined how it will be spent, but relief checks to individuals in the fishing sector would probably be no more than $4,000.

Keliher, who also serves as chairman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, wrote in a June 26 letter to federal lawmakers that another $1.3 billion was needed to help the region’s commercial and recreational fishing businesses.

“Demand for this financial relief far outpaces the amount appropriated by Congress,” Keliher wrote.

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