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VA Officials: Federal Relief for Seafood Industry 'Woefully Short'

The crab industry in Virginia has been hit hard by restaurant shutdowns during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)
The crab industry in Virginia has been hit hard by restaurant shutdowns during the pandemic. (Adobe Stock)

May 15, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. - With fisheries on the verge of collapse during the pandemic shutdowns, Virginia officials are criticizing federal relief for its seafood industry as "woefully short."

The Trump administration allotted $300 million to prop up the nation's aquaculture and fishing businesses. Virginia will receive only $4.5 million of that money, to support a $1.5 billion industry, according to Chris Moore - senior regional ecosystem scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

He says single companies alone in the Chesapeake Bay area already have lost more than that amount.

"Many of these businesses, which are very small operators - and many of them spent a tremendous amount of money to gear up for the season and then had to shut down just prior to the season starting," says Moore, "obviously are going to need additional financial help."

He says a bipartisan group of 25 senators from states with hard-hit seafood sectors, including Virginia Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, are pushing Senate leaders to increase funding to $1 billion in the next pandemic relief bill.

The senators have sent a letter to their colleagues, stating that many fisheries have seen sales declines as high as 95% since the pandemic, putting thousands of family-owned and small fisheries are risk of bankruptcy.

Moore is especially concerned about Virginia's crab businesses, since watermen are dependent on the high prices they get paid this time of year to recoup money spent on fishing equipment.

"A lot of those crabbers just invested, you know, thousands and thousands of dollars in gear just before the fishery started, and just before the shutdowns we've experienced," says Moore. "And now, unfortunately, the market is nowhere near what they were expecting."

A new survey by Virginia Tech finds that almost 85% of aquaculture businesses in the nation had sales losses in March and April. More than 60% of growers expected their businesses to go under this June, unless they get help.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA