The announcement came last week that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission had approved Virginia’s plan on how to disperse allocated CARES Act funds among the state’s fishermen and women.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act set aside about $4.5 million to three segments of Virginia’s fishing industry – Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture, Deal or Processor, and Charter-for-Hire.
Looking at the cash amounts, it’s easy to be left scratching your head – especially if you are a commercial fisherman or a charter captain.
A little background is necessary.
When Covid-19 hit and Virginia’s Governor shut down much of the state, commercial operations were allowed to continue with no interruption. Yes, the closing of restaurants severely hurt commercial fishermen and fish processors, as they had few places to sell their goods.
Recreational angling was left untouched, so at least some of the trickle down effect – gas, bait and tackle – managed to stay afloat.
But the charter fishing industry in the state was shut down. Hundreds and hundreds of spring trips were cancelled. It’s a hard enough way to make a living without the doors being shut.
Keep in mind that charter captains in most East Coast states were allowed to continue operations.
After much debate, Virginia captains got the green light to join the others on the water. But most, if not all, had already lost about a third of their annual income.
So, here’s where the head scratching comes in. A formula was developed to determine how much of the money each of the three sectors is entitled to. The basis was the percentage of contribution to Virginia’s seafood industry based on past revenues.
On top of that, the VMRC set aside about $900,000 to cover such things as admin fees, postage and a whopping $799,000 for “appeals, small grants and future needs.”
The breakdown of what’s left is astonishing:
- The state’s 244 licensed dealers and processors will get 43.3% after the VMRC takes its cut – which amounts to $1,558,463.55, or about $6,387 per license.
Keep in mind, this sector was allowed to work.
- The 2,874 licensed commercial fishermen and aquaculture operations get the highest percentage at 52.8% – $1,945,316.21. But because of the number of participants, that breaks down to the lowest total per licensee at just $677 each.
Again, these folks at least were still allowed to work during the state’s shutdown.
- The state’s 242 marine fisheries commission ID number holding charter captains – wait for it – were allocated just 4.9%, a paper-thin slice of the $180,531.24 pie that was left over.
To sum it up, the charter captains will each get $746 – not much more than the fuel costs for ONE offshore trip.
The last straw? This sector of the fishing industry wasn’t allowed to work for several months.
Oh, we ain’t done yet.
Then there is the paperwork that will be required to qualify for a CARES Act check.
We all know that there is infinite space on the internet, but this particular computer most likely will crash if we try to explain the process. It’s enough to make most charter captains say “to hell with it,” as many have said that’s exactly how they feel.
Wouldn’t be surprised if some of the commercial guys do the same.
Participants in the three industry sectors already are charged with a sea of paperwork on their catches, number of trips and licenses.
For charter captains there also are federal permits and reports – many of which duplicate what they have to send to the state.
While regular individuals were getting their CARE check that amounted to a decent little bonus – more than a week’s pay for an awful lot of folks – charter captains will get close to a third of what a typical offshore trip costs.
It’s your call how you feel about the fairness of all this, but, rest assured, the charter community is none too happy.