The $300 million direct assistance to the U.S. seafood industry to mitigate the economic impact of the novel coronavirus is expected to be just the first of a string of federal relief measures enacted in the coming months, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton said Tuesday.

Moulton conceded that many of the details of the direct assistance remain sketchy on eligibility requirements and the distribution of the direct aid to the seafood industry stretching from Hawaii and Alaska to Massachusetts and Maine.

"I know people have a lot of questions," Moulton said by phone. "There are only dribbles of information every day."

Moulton, who continues to recover from contracting what he said is a mild case of COVID-19, said he anticipates the funds will be distributed in a manner employed in other fishery disaster assistance packages.

In previous assistance packages, the Commerce Department received the congressional appropriation and distributed the funds to individual regions — such as New England, Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico — to be managed by individual states and local communities.

"That's what we believe will happen based on previous experience," Moulton said.

The congressman was a leading voice in the House of Representatives for the inclusion of a broad scope of seafood businesses — from fishing boats and crews to shoreside businesses and aquaculture — in the final aid package.

"We have been working on this for a while," Moulton said. "Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante and I got together very early on, over a month ago, to look at the impact of the pandemic on the fishing industry."

He said a coalition of House members — including his colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation and others from fishing communities — initially requested $1.5 billion in direct aid to the seafood industry.

"Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, fisheries in the United States are facing an unprecedented breakdown in the market for their products," Moulton and other members of the Massachusetts delegation stated in a letter to House leadership. "Americans overwhelmingly purchase domestic seafood products, nearly 70 percent, at restaurant and hospitality establishments. In nearly every state, steps taken by government and citizens to prevent the transmission of the disease has focused on the closure of many of these establishments. This has left the American seafood industry unable to find a market for their products a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has also eliminated any avenue of exports. The situation within American fisheries is dire, and the harm being inflicted will undermine the longterm health of a sustainable industry."

Given the scale of the impact on the seafood industry, Moulton said the initial aid package, which also provides access to $350 billion in small business loan packages and enhanced unemployment benefits, should only be the beginning of federal assistance.

And, he said, it should provide lessons for improving the composition and distribution of future aid packages.

"Anyone with any suggestions to improve the implementation should let my team know," he said.

He also suggested that fishing stakeholders and other constituents monitor the coronavirus-specific webpage — moulton.house.gov/coronavirus — and its pandemic-specific newsletter for the latest news on aid packages and other information. It also contains a small business section with information on available loans and emergency grants.

"As we get the information, we'll post it immediately," Moulton said.

The congressman was asked if he thought the economic implications of the pandemic will materially change the commercial fishing industry for good once the coronavirus recedes.

"I don't think so yet," he said. "This is different from the financial crisis of 2008 in that there is no fundamental issue with the economy. These remain productive assets. We just need to get the economy running again."

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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