Coronavirus NJ: $11M to keep NJ fishing industry alive; 'This is getting very serious'
New Jersey's hard-hit fishing industry will be allocated $11 million of the $300 million available in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, according to U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.
Pallone, a Democrat whose Sixth District stretches along the coast of much of Monmouth and Middlesex counties, said the money will be made available to the commercial fishing, charter and for-hire fishing businesses, aquaculture operations, processors and other fishery-related businesses in the state. The money will be in the form of grants that do not have to be repaid.
The CARES Act was approved by Congress on March 27. Pallone said he thought it "outrageous" that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has taken until May to make the funds available. Even still, the funds are not ready to be distributed.
NOAA Fisheries is allocating the funds to the interstate marine fisheries commissions to disburse to the states. New Jersey is a member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which is comprised of the 15 Atlantic Coast states including Pennsylvania.
"We need to get them to put out the guidelines and the applications so that people can apply for these grants," Pallone said.
The state's commercial fishing industry, which landed over $170 million worth of fish in 2018, has seen seafood prices drop because its main buyer is the restaurant industry. And those establishments have been relegated to take-out business only due to social distancing measures enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19.
About two-thirds of U.S. fishery products are consumed at food service establishments, according to Saving Seafood, a national coalition of seafood harvesters that includes New Jersey members.
The charter and party boat industry, which take patrons out on fishing excursions, has been idle since mid-March when Gov. Phil Murphy shut down nonessential businesses to flatten the curve of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Captain William Egerter, who owns and operates the Dauntless party boat in Point Pleasant Beach, said on top of losing two months of daily fares, he's concerned they're about to miss the start of sea bass and fluke seasons — which are the backbone of the spring and summer business. Both seasons open in May.
"This is getting very serious. We could be missing our main seasons," Egerter said.
Bait and tackle shops may be excluded from the grants. NOAA Fisheries doesn't expect the shops along with gear and vessel suppliers to be eligible for funding.
However, NOAA says individual states, tribes and territories will have the discretion to determine how they will identify eligible fishery participants.
Tackle shop owners who spoke to the Press said they've seen a drop in revenue but have been able to conduct business via curbside pickup.
Ray Kericho, owner of Grumpy's Bait and Tackle in Seaside Park said he was also able to get funds through the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, and a small business grant.
"That helped out. I was actually able to hire an employee," Kericho said.