Fisheries agency sends coronavirus relief to fishermen, seafood dealers and others

Fishing vessels sit docked at Beaufort Inlet Seafood in Beaufort in this undated photo. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries recently send checks to fishermen, seafood dealers and others in the industry as economic relief for losses brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.  (Mike Shutak photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — More than $5.2 million in financial assistance is on its way to more than 30 eligible members of the fishing industry in Carteret County who sustained income losses last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries issued funds the week of April 26-30 to 197 commercial fishermen and marine aquaculture operations, for-hire fishing operations and seafood dealers and processors deemed eligible for assistance from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Fisheries Relief Program.

According to the DMF, a total of 291 applications were received, including 217 from commercial fishermen and marine aquaculture operations, 35 from seafood dealers and processors and 39 from for-hire fishing operations.

According to a county-by-county breakdown, of the 25 counties where payouts were made, Carteret County had the most approved applications, with 33 approvals totaling $338,954.61 in relief funds. The second-highest number of approvals was 27 in Dare County.

While Carteret County had the most approved applications, it came in fifth in highest amount paid. The highest-paid county was Pamlico, where 10 approved applicants received $2,245,512.76.

The DMF said an additional $161,287 went toward the division’s administrative costs.

“In May 2020, North Carolina was allocated about $5.4 million from the federal CARES Act to provide financial relief through direct payments to fishery-related stakeholder groups affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the division said. “The federal law required applicants to document total loss of revenue greater than 35% as compared to the average total revenue from the same period of the previous five-years to be eligible for relief.”

Additionally, applicants were required to affirm that this assistance, in combination with any other CARES Act assistance received, would not result in overcompensation for their financial losses in 2020.

The division developed a spending plan with public input for the program that was approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service in September 2020. Applications were accepted from Oct. 27 to Nov. 30.  No relief funds could be distributed until all applications and appeals were finalized because the funds are allocated based on the percentage of eligible claimed fishing loss revenue in relation to all eligible stakeholders who qualify in the stakeholder category.

The proportions allocated for each eligible stakeholder category differ from those initially approved in the spending plan. After reviewing and approving eligible applications, the greatest amount that could be awarded to eligible applicants under the for-hire operations category was $434,243.

This amount compensated for 100% of approved losses in the for-hire operations category and left $827,074 unexpended. The DMF requested and received permission to amend the spending plan to move the $827,074 from the for-hire operations stakeholder category to the seafood dealers and processors category, which raised the compensation in the category from 17% of approved losses to 40%.

The allocation proportion did not change in the commercial fisherman and marine aquaculture operations category. Stakeholders in that category were compensated for 79% of approved losses.

More assistance to the fishing industry will be available. The NOAA Fisheries Service announced North Carolina’s share of the $225 million in fisheries assistance in the Consolidated Appropriations Act will be about $4.6 million. However, the amount available to North Carolina was revised to around $4.5 million due to NOAA and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission administration fees. An additional amount, still to be determined, will go toward DMF administrative costs.

The division will announce a public comment period for a draft spending plan and an application period for this funding at a later date. Applicants for this funding must meet the same eligibility criteria as the CARES Act fisheries assistance funding.

 

Reporter Mike Shutak contributed to this article.

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