COVID-19 federal relief funds for SouthCoast fisheries tops $5 million

Keith Decker, CEO of Blue Harvest Fisheries, said federal relief funds made a “big difference” in minimizing the impact of the pandemic. The company received just over $510,000 last year for its processing facility and four of its fishing vessels, according to state records. 

Decker said they used the funds for production line modifications to allow for social distancing and improved worker safety. The company also adopted a temporary wage increase for “hazard pay” for workers who were able to continue working during the height of the pandemic, he said. 

SouthCoast commercial fishermen, charter boat owners, aquaculture farmers and processors like Blue Harvest received about 18.5%, or $5.1 million, of federal funds allocated to Massachusetts last year for economic relief for fisheries.

The 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known more commonly as the CARES Act, authorized over $2 trillion in relief to individuals, businesses, hospitals, loan programs and other recipients to help ameliorate the economic impacts of COVID-19.

In May 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced an allocation of $300 million for fisheries assistance. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Massachusetts received the third-highest amount in funding with about $28 million. Alaska and Washington received the most with $50 million each and Maine was fifth with about $20.3 million. 

Fishing vessels docked in New Bedford Harbor.

SouthCoast businesses in New Bedford, Fall River, Mattapoisett, Acushnet, Dartmouth and Fairhaven received the combined $5.1 million of the state’s allocation.

New Bedford alone received about $3.8 million, or approximately 13.6% of the state’s allocation. The city also took seven of the top 20 spots for recipients with the highest amounts of aid. 

SouthCoast processors in the city, Fairhaven and Fall River took a combined $3.1 million out of the approximate $5.1 million earmarked for the region.