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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — An additional $255 million in federal COVID-19 aid money is available for commercial fishermen, seafood processors and dealers, the state announced this week.

The state Department of Environmental Management will distribute the funds, which are part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

The aid in the form of direct payments is available for businesses that operate in four sectors: commercial fishing, commercial aquaculture, seafood processors and wholesale dealers, and charter or for-hire outfits. The DEM’s Division of Marine Fisheries will administer this second round of relief tied to the pandemic.

“There has been an unprecedented recognition of both the struggle that the fishing industry went through during the pandemic as well as the value of this industry to the state of Rhode Island and the nation as a whole,” DEM Deputy Director of Natural Resources Jason McNamee said. “We are proud to partner with the Congressional delegation, federal government, and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to get these relief funds out as quickly as possible to this impacted community.”

Eligible applicants must demonstrate they had a more than 35% loss in revenue in the sector-specific reference periods in 2020 compared to their average revenue during the same period from 2015 to 2019.  

The application period opened Sept. 13 and will close Sept. 27. Locally, hard copies of the application are available at DEM’s Division of Coastal Resources, 301 Great Island Road, Narragansett. They also are available at DEM offices in Providence and Jamestown and on the DEM’s Marine Fisheries website.

Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation said the new package of aid is another lifeline for an industry battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This latest round of federal aid will go a long way to helping these businesses and our coastal communities overcome the economic challenges posed by the pandemic,” U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said.

The new round of funding is designed to support activities that previously were authorized in the the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“The fishing industry is incredibly important to our state, and I know Rhode Islanders are proud to be known for it and our fresh seafood,” U.S. Rep. David Cicilline D-R.I., said. “This additional round of fisheries assistance funding will help support the hardworking men and women from this industry who were seriously impacted by the COVID-19 public health crisis. I encourage folks to apply as soon as possible so we can get this relief funding out into our communities quickly.”

News of the federal assistance money is the latest effort to help boost the state’s fishing industry, which has a heavy presence in Narragansett, home to the fishing port at Galilee.

In July, the General Assembly passed a law to permanently allow fishing vessel operators to get a  license to sell certain seafood straight from their docked boats to consumers and retailers.

While dockside sales of live lobsters and crabs to consumers have been allowed for many years, and remain authorized under the existing dockside sales endorsement, the new direct sale dealer license extended the opportunity to include dockside sales to retail establishments, as well as the transport and sale of live lobster, crab and whelk to consumers and retailers.

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