(WASHINGTON, DC)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is calling on Congress to provide substantially more aid to the region’s struggling seafood industry, which is in economic free fall because of the near total shutdown of restaurants, markets, and other outlets for fresh oysters, crabs, and other Bay seafood.
While CBF welcomes the $300 million in federal funds from the first COVID-19 response bill the Commerce Department announced last week, it is woefully short of the robust response fishers, aquaculture growers, processors, and other links in the Bay seafood supply chain need to keep their doors open. Many of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia’s seafood suppliers, particularly Bay oyster farmers, are small family businesses that do not have the financial resources to survive the pandemic without significantly more federal aid.
According to a recent survey conducted by Virginia Tech in March and April, 84 percent of aquaculture businesses had already suffered sales losses and 64 percent of aquaculture growers expected their businesses would go under by this June without help.
A healthy seafood industry is vital to the Bay region’s larger economy. Before the pandemic, it supported more than 30,000 jobs and had an economic impact of $4.6 billion across the watershed. To allocate only $300 million to the entire America seafood sector and less than $10 million overall for Delaware ($1 million), Maryland ($4.1 million), and Virginia ($4.5 million) combined, is disappointingly inadequate.
More in line with the industry’s needs is the $1 billion that 25 senators from states with hard-hit seafood sectors have urged Senate leaders to include in the next pandemic relief bill. CBF thanks all senators that signed the letter, especially Senators Cardin (MD), Van Hollen (MD), Carper (DE), Coons (DE), Warner (VA), Kaine (VA), and Gillibrand (NY) from the Bay delegation.
CBF Federal Executive Director Jason Rano made this statement about the needs of the watershed’s seafood industry:
“The economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the watershed’s seafood industry a body blow from which it cannot recover without significant federal aid. In a region where the industry has an economic impact of $4.6 billion and supports more than 30,000 jobs, the wider ripple effects of an industry collapse will be devastating.
“While CBF welcomes the $300 million in nationwide assistance in Congress’s initial COVID-19 response package as a good first step, it does not begin to meet the industry’s vast and urgent needs. We call on Congress to instead be guided by the $1 billion aid request Senators Cardin, Van Hollen, Carper, Coons, Warner, Kaine, and Gillibrand support.”