Washington state will receive about $50 million in federal-relief dollars to assist both the commercial-seafood and sport-fishing-charter industries stung by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement released Thursday by the federal Commerce Department.
The money is carved out of the massive economic stimulus package known as the CARES ACT that was passed by Congress in March and is intended to assist in both direct and indirect fishery-related losses. Those eligible to apply for the funds include fishermen, tribes, processors and aquaculture companies.
Washington state's seafood industry has many ties to Alaska, which also received $50 million of the $300 million that will be awarded nationally to assist the seafood and charter boat industries, according to the statement.
Earlier in the spring, Washington's charter-boat operations were shut down amid the broader restrictions imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee as he sought to combat the pandemic through social distancing. The seafood industry has remained open because it's considered essential to food production, but it has been battered as restaurants — a key market for processors — have been closed to sit-down dining across the United States and internationally.
"Thousands of fishermen around the Pacific Northwest are feeling the impacts of restaurant, fishing and tourism closures due to COVID-19 and the loss of seafood sales," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who worked on passage of the federal legislation. "Due to the unique nature of fishing businesses, many have been left without federal assistance until now."
Cantwell said that the money will be disbursed in grants and other direct assistance.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said, "I'm glad that we pushed hard in Congress to direct some of this much needed relief to our state's hard hit fishing and aquaculture communities."
In the weeks ahead, the industry also faces challenges in catching and processing fish amid the pandemic.
There are increasing concerns in remote Alaska coastal communities that spring and summer salmon fisheries will bring an infusion of processors and fishermen who may spread the coronavirus to areas that have been free of COVID-19. Earlier this week, the roadless community of Cordova, which is a hub for the upcoming Copper River fishery, recorded it's first positive case of COVID-19, an asymptomatic processing worker who is now under quarantine.
The worker was employed by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, a major Alaska processor with an office in Seattle, and was caught through employee testing, according to a report by Cordova-based KLAM radio.