An additional $255 million in fisheries assistance funding is coming from Congressional CARES Act authorization of last year to help fishermen and related businesses hit by covid-19 income losses, NMFS announced Thursday.
Provided through the Congress’ Consolidated Appropriations Act of 202, the funding will be allocated to states and territories with coastal and marine fishery participants affected by the pandemic.
“Our priority is to award these funds as quickly as possible using existing processes established under the CARES Act,” said Paul Doremus, the acting assistant administrator for NMFS. “As a next step, we will use these allocations to provide additional funds to our partners – the interstate marine fisheries commissions, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands –to disburse funds to address direct or indirect fishery-related losses as well as subsistence, cultural, or ceremonial impacts related to covid-19.”
The commissions then will work with each state and territory to revise their prior spend plans to be consistent with the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the CARES Act, and NOAA’s guidance. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will submit spend plans to the agency directly.
All spend plans must describe the main categories for funding, including direct payments, fishery-related infrastructure, and fishery-related education. The funding will address direct and indirect covid-19 impacts to eligible fishery participants, including:
• Commercial fishermen
• Charter businesses
• Qualified aquaculture operations
• Subsistence, cultural, and ceremonial users
• Other fishery-related businesses
“Congress also designated $30 million for all federally recognized Tribes in coastal states and the Great Lakes and $15 million for Great Lakes states,” according to an agency statement. “We will work with our state partners and Tribes to determine the approach we will use to allocate this funding to eligible fishery participants as quickly as possible.”
Similar to the first round of CARES Act funding, once a state’s spend plan has been approved by NOAA, the agency anticipates that the three commissions will review applications.
Meanwhile NMFS is continuing to extend its rule allowing waivers of fishery observer requirements.
The rule provides “the authority to waive observer coverage, some training, and other program requirements, on a case-by-case basis” during the covid-19 pandemic.
“The authority to waive coverage has resulted in a successful balance between public health and the safety of fishermen, observers, and others, while maintaining fishery operations and the monitoring necessary for sustainable management,” according to an agency statement.
The continuing criteria allows for waivers when placing an observer would conflict with travel restrictions or other requirements, and when no qualified observers are available for placement due to health, safety, or training issues related to the pandemic.
NMFS will also consider a trip waiver if the observer providers cannot meet the risk mitigation protocols imposed by a state on commercial fishing crew or by the vessel or vessel company on its crew.