A second round of aid for the fishing industry is emerged as part of the $900 billion emergency pandemic relief package approved Monday night by Congress.

“We got another $300 million for fisheries,” said Leigh Habegger, executive director of the Seafood Harvesters of America. The package is similar to the first Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act covid-19 emergency aid unveiled in May, although “the process may look a little bit different than it did in the first round,” she said.

The Paycheck Protection Program is being extended with rule changes to help smaller businesses. One change sought by Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska, will allow the program to cover crew members paid as contractors or 1099 employees, said Habegger.

In addition seafood is also explicitly listed as eligible for purchase by the U.S Department of Agriculture for its domestic food assistance program, allotted $1.5 billion by the emergency legislation. The legislative language specifically notes the money is to purchase "food and agriculural products, including seafood" for distribution through public agencies and non-profit, charitable partners such as food banks.

"Some will also be eligible to dole out as grants or loans" to help seafood businesses contending with new pandemic-related issues, she said. One example is redesigning seafood processing plants on vessels or shoreside to add covid-19 safeguards and spread out workspaces.

"Those kinds of covid-related operational costs were not covered under the original CARES Act," said Habegger. 

“The provisions in this relief package have been long-awaited by the commercial fishing and seafood industry,” the association said in a statement early Tuesday morning. ”We offer our sincere thanks to all members of Congress, including Senators Maria Cantwell, Lisa Murkowski, Jeanne Shaheen, Ed Markey, Dan Sullivan, and Susan Collins, for their continued work on behalf of the fishing industry. Congress’ support of our industry throughout the Covid pandemic has been critical.

“The additional fisheries assistance funds allocated will help our fishing businesses ensure they can weather the continued market disruptions in the seafood sector. We look forward to working with the Biden Administration to improve the disbursement of these funds.”

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Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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