Public outreach during this time is a complicated process. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago in reference to the Climate Council’s work this spring. Recently, participating in the Brunswick Marine Resource Committee’s (BMRC) first Zoom meeting offered me a window into this new frontier of decision-making.

Zoom meetings are not without their challenges, particularly when you have to field public comments by phone. This is what many towns are dealing with in their regular meetings. Some gather in person, some by video, and others call in with – a menagerie of input that is not a simple thing to navigate. The reality is that public participation is usually not as high as it usually is. But, there was some good news to share at this meeting that is important to spread the word about.

One major focus of this meeting was the economic fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic and the impacts it has had on local fishermen and harvesters. A presentation by Jessica Joyce from Tidal Bay Consulting, LLC outlined many of the options out there right now, some of which I have written about in this column in recent weeks. These ranged from direct sales to consumers to an overview of the Payroll Protection Act (PPA).

The newest component of this suite of options was the announcement of federal funding for commercial fisheries businesses. A section of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) allocates $300 million “to states, Tribes, and territories with coastal and marine fishery participants who have been negatively affected by COVID–19” ( Maine received the fifth-highest amount in the country at $20 million, a welcome sign of at least some relief for fishermen locally and across the state. The funds will be distributed through regional multi-state fisheries management bodies. Maine belongs to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) as does Massachusetts, which received the third-highest amount at $28 million.

Without in-person public meetings, however, getting the word out about news like this is tough – both local and national. Posting information on a town website is one small step, as are in-person (appropriately distanced) conversations at boat landings, but public outreach right now is just hard. To that end, it is more important than ever for people engaged in the marine economy to keep tabs on ways to participate in local issues and to get helpful information.

The goal is to keep people in these fisheries businesses working safely, and fortunately working outdoors means that is possible in many cases. It’s the marketing and sales piece that has been difficult. This federal funding will hopefully alleviate some of that strain. In the meantime, positive things are happening along the waterfront. These include coastal restoration projects at Wharton and Rocky Points to combat shoreline erosion as a part of the Living Shorelines statewide initiative. Another project measures and compares shellfish recruitment, or amount of larvae, at Thomas Point Beach and Harpswell Cove through use of sampling boxes. On your coastal meanderings this spring, look for signs of these projects that will also help to buoy up our coastal resources during difficult times.

While we may feel isolated during this period, but it is a chance to realize some of the local connections that we all have to our coastal economy and ecosystem.

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