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$3.6M in aid available to fish industries in Hawaii

Qualified fishers and seafood processors and dealers in Hawaii who lost business because of the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for some of the $3.6 million in federal CARES Act money allocated to the state.

Commercial fishing in Hawaii, like most of the state’s industries, struggled during the coronavirus pandemic as restaurants and businesses closed for extended periods while tourism was at a standstill, cutting the amount of fish sold by fishers.

Last year about $4.3 million was allocated to Hawaii during the first of two rounds of CARES Act funding meant for the nation’s fisheries. The $3.6 million allocated this year is part of a second round of funding and will be distributed by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Applicants can apply for assistance through Sept. 30. They must have experienced more than a 35% loss in revenue during a four-week period during the pandemic compared to a five-year average from 2015 to 2019.

Like the first round of relief, the funding has been further broken down into sectors and is based on their respective economic values, according to a spending plan devised by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and its Division of Aquatic Resources along with other stakeholders.

Most of the aid — about $2.1 million — is being allocated to Hawaii’s longline fishery, which has an annual value of about $100 million.

The fishery lost about $35 million in 2020 compared to its five-year average from 2015 to 2019. Bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna are the most commonly caught species in the fishery, and fishers caught and sold less of both in 2020 compared to 2019.

Eric Kingma, executive director for the Hawaii Longline Association, said about 90% of the longline fleet will be eligible for the federal aid. The fishery has rebounded this year because of a lack of imported ahi and a high demand and a relatively low catch for it, he added.

“Last year was really tough. This year was better, but the volumes (of fish) that the longliners were bringing in weren’t really that high, either,” Kingma said. “I think many vessels are still recovering from the tough year last year.”

Seafood processors and dealers have available to them the second-largest share of the federal aid at $579,000, while the charter fishery has been allocated $418,000; the commercial non-longline fishery, $376,000; and the subsistence fishery and others, including aquarium fishers and residents with out-of-state fishing businesses, $100,000.

There are nearly 3,000 licensed commercial non-longline fishers in Hawaii who reported landings from 2015 to 2019, although only active fishers who averaged fish sales of at least $7,000 annually during that time period are eligible for assistance.

That amounts to about 450 to 500 of the more “serious” non-longline fishers, according to David Sakoda, program manager for the Division of Aquatic Resources, who added that non-longline commercial fishing appears to have dropped during COVID-19 even though the fishing effort may have grown.

“There’s been less licenses issued or renewed, so we’re thinking less people are commercially fishing … and then more people are fishing but for subsistence or sharing,” he said.

Noncommercial fishing in Hawaii appeared to have grown during at least part of the pandemic.

There are only about 140 permitted longline fishers and about 190 fishing charter businesses in Hawaii, based on 2019 numbers used in the spending plan.

Sakoda said the revenue for fishing charter businesses dropped to essentially zero for a whole year during the halt in Hawaii tourism before picking up dramatically since spring.

“There was a period where there was 100% shutdown, but from March or April it started picking back up. And since May it’s been 100% full capacity for the most part,” he said.

The aid that applicants will receive is dependent on their claims of revenue loss and the total claims in their respective sectors.

Applications can be filled out online on PSMFC’s website at psmfc.org.

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