The state is launching a $1 million branding program Wednesday to market Maine seafood to the pandemic-era home cook.

Bankrolled by federal COVID-19 relief funds, the new “Maine Knows Seafood” program will feature recipes and how-to guides, a directory of local seafood retailers and stories about the people who grow, catch and harvest Maine’s seafood. Funding will come from Maine’s $20 million share of the $300 million CARES Act relief fund for the U.S. seafood sector.

“Right now, we are all looking for creative ways to have a really nice dinner in our own home,” said Commissioner Pat Keliher of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “Maine has the best, most reasonably priced, most sustainable seafood in the world. Our message to home chefs is simple. Go ahead, spoil yourself. Have some Maine seafood.”

While the pandemic has hit the restaurant industry hard, with one out of every six closing, retail seafood sales are up 35 percent, according to state-cited consumer research. That is what makes this the right time to promote Maine seafood, when the need for alternative sources of affordable high-quality protein is high, state officials said.

“With more Maine people cooking from home, we have an opportunity to support Maine’s seafood industry by promoting the premium products we produce here at home,” said Gov. Janet Mills in a prepared statement. “This initiative will support a vital sector of our state’s economy and connect consumers with high-quality seafood produced in the U.S. at a critical time.”

The campaign will focus on all Maine seafood, from salmon to sea vegetables, and not just lobster, which already has its Lobster From Maine brand. That is important, Keliher said, because not every Maine fishery qualified for direct CARES Act relief money due to the eligibility window and the timing of their fishing season.

For example, Maine scallopers were winding down their fishing season when COVID-19 essentially shut down the U.S. restaurant industry, so many of them could not show the 35 percent profit loss required to qualify for COVID-19 seafood relief. Not all urchin fishermen qualified, either. Yet both suffered from the economic downtown, Keliher said.

“Everyone was hurt in some way, shape or form,” Keliher said. “Marketing Maine seafood helps everyone in the industry out.”

The state has received 2,700 applications for a direct payout from Maine’s remaining $29 million in COVID-19 seafood relief. Of those, DMR has approved about 2,100, using landing reports or receipts to prove the fishermen, aquaculture producers, seafood dealers and processors, and charter boat operators suffered a 35 percent profit loss in 2020.

The remaining 600 are still awaiting state review or filing appeals of initial state denials, Keliher said.

The exact amount of the seafood relief check cannot be determined until the state acts on the final 600 applications, but average payouts should range between $4,500 and $6,000 and arrive in the mail by Jan. 1. The decision to create the Maine seafood brand probably reduced the average payout by about $170, Keliher estimated.

Department spokesman Jeff Nichols will work with Weber Shandwick, the Boston-area public relations firm that represents the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, on the branding project. The state did not put the contract out to bid due to the tight federal deadline for spending all the CARES Act funding, Keliher said.

The branding campaign will last through July, but Keliher is hopeful the state can come up with some money to keep the website, seafoodfrommaine.com, fresh even after the federal funding runs out. He thinks the content will remain valuable long after COVID-19 concerns ease and people feel safe turning to their favorite seafood eateries.


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