Gov. Janet Mills is asking President Trump for help to support Maine’s fishing industry.

In a letter to the president Friday, Mills pointed to a collapse of the markets for seafood both locally and globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic and asked the administration to consider direct financial assistance, subsidies, operating loans or loan deferment, or tweaking existing programs to make them more accessible to fishing and seafood businesses.

“In the short-term, harvesters have only limited opportunities within their communities to sell small quantities of product in hopes to earn just enough money to buy weekly necessities,” wrote Mills, calling the men and women who fish for lobster, herring, groundfish and shellfish “the very backbone of our rural coastal economy.”

In the long term, Mills said, “it is clear that the collapse of the international and larger domestic markets will devastate Maine’s commercial fisheries.”

She noted that those who fish for a living are independent operators and thus not eligible for unemployment benefits. Dealers and processors are having a hard time finding markets for product already harvested. She said reports from some harbors are that dealers will not accept landings of any lobsters, and those who are buying are paying as little as $2 per pound, down from $8 per pound four weeks ago.

Instead of hundreds of lobster boats typically plying the waters in March, Mills said only a handful were out Thursday. A mild winter could mean an early start to the summer season and higher than normal landings, flooding an already depressed market and resulting in widespread economic repercussions along Maine’s coast.

Lobster landings last year in Maine generated more than $485 million. Severely reduced prices could result in a loss of $50 million for the first half of this year, and more if the market continues to shrink.

Aquaculturists, wholesale dealers and seafood processors are all affected by the slowdown caused by the coronavirus. Spring is usually lucrative and productive for groundfishermen,  who have until April 30 to fulfill their quota, Mills said. She noted that average prices at the Portland fish auction are down 30 percent from February and March of 2019.

As for shellfish aquaculture, Mills anticipates losses in revenue of 50 percent. For the state’s softshell clam industry, prices have dropped as much as 75 percent in an industry valued at $18 million last year that depends heavily on the restaurant market.

She also made note of elver prices – from over $2,000 per pound at times last year to early projections of as low as $200 per pound this year – and a scallop fishery scheduled to open April 1 and facing price drops similar to those in the lobster industry.

“I hope you can appreciate how reliant our coastal communities are on the revenues these resources produce,” Mills wrote to Trump. “It is the lifeblood of our rural coastline, and these individuals have no other options to sustain their way of life.”


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