By John Pappalardo
As the pandemic descended on us all, here at the Alliance we kept racking our brains to come up with ways we could respond, ways we could help local fishermen stay on the water and stay in business.
We worked with captains and crew one-on-one to make sure they were lined up to receive the state and federal support they deserve. We worked with local and state officials to create more opportunities for direct sales off boats and docks. We launched a chowder program to become a strong steady buyer for smaller haddock, supporting jobs on deck as well as in fish processing and manufacturing, at the same time helping food banks across New England fight hunger and support tens of thousands of people facing what they call food insecurity.
Then we hit on another idea: How about trying to get fuel subsidies directly to commercial fishermen?
The more we thought about it, the more we liked it. Fuel companies have records of what they’ve pumped boat by boat, account by account, so the paperwork is there already. A subsidy by the gallon would offer more support to fishermen most on the water rather than a flat amount to anyone with a commercial permit no matter how much they are working. No strings attached, just a check in the mail – fishermen can decide how best to use it. Simple. Straightforward. Direct.
We proposed the idea to the team at Catch Together, the same group that helped us get funding for our haddock chowder work. We wrestled with the numbers, tried to figure out what kind of scale we’re talking about. Catch Together vetted our projections and ran it up their funding flagpole. We suggested a subsidy of 10 cents for every gallon of fuel used by a bona fide commercial fisherman on the Cape (and maybe a few on the islands too). It wasn’t a buck a gallon, but it was more than a token, and might just make the difference given how tight margins had become.
The word came back: You’ve got the funding. Go for it.
We let local fuel companies who supply fishermen know what we wanted to do, and asked for their help getting us hard numbers. Canal, Cape Cod Oil, Harwich Port Boat Yard, Loud, Marcey, Monomoy, Nantucket Boat Basin, Whiteley – they all came through, providing us with the information we needed or verifying data that fishermen sent in.
Now I can report that the first round of checks has gone out. Support has reached about 190 fishermen so far, totaling about $40,000. For some captains the check was a couple hundred dollars or less; for others it was close to $600. We’re working on a second round in the new year and so far we have another 20 or so fishermen lined up, roughly $4500 committed, with more to come. Checks have reached fishermen from the canal all the way to Provincetown.
As you might imagine, the response has been heartening. For some the money just showed up because the fuel companies had provided the paperwork, so there was plenty of grateful surprise. Many mentioned how “every little bit helps right about now,” which is what we had suspected.
We are going to beat this virus. There have been many tragic casualties, and there will be more. But we will beat it, and we at the Alliance will do our best to lessen its damage. We know our contributions toward that goal are very small in the grand scheme, but we will continue to do them, and we know this fleet will survive.