Shellfish growers impacted by a drop in exports and restaurant sales during the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible for a piece of $300,000 in emergency grants from the state Department of Commerce.
Washington is the leading U.S. producer of farmed oysters and clams, but local and global market demand for Washington shellfish has dropped dramatically since January, with some growers reporting revenue declines of 80-90% over last year, according to a Commerce statement.
Commerce is partnering with the state Department of Agriculture to fund the grants — up to $5,000 each — with $250,000 from the Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grant program and $50,000 from the Department of Agriculture Rural Rehab Program.
“These grants are one way we can help our state’s $300 million industry and the approximately 3,000 jobs it supports, many of them in rural communities already struggling economically,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown.
“Washington’s shellfish growers have had this current season devastated by the global pandemic. We are providing needed funds now so that our small shellfish growers in particular, can make timely purchases of seed and larvae this summer to keep next season’s sales opportunities alive,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “We are hopeful that additional federal assistance for fisheries and aquaculture will be made available but we are stepping up as a state to help these growers.”
Some shellfish growers have successfully applied for federal resources, such as Small Business Administration loans, yet many are not in a position to take out additional loans or even qualify for these federal resources, Brown said.
“Our state’s aquaculture industry is coping with an unprecedented series of challenges that have resulted from this on-going pandemic afflicting our state and much of the world,” state Department of Agriculture director Derek Sandison said. “My hope is that these grants, coming at this critical time, will help the industry weather this difficult storm.”
The concerns of Washington’s shellfish industry extend to approximately nine West Coast hatcheries from California to British Columbia that supply shellfish growers in Washington and beyond. These hatcheries have experienced a significant drop in sales to growers, according to the Commerce statement. To both growers and hatchery owners, the cost of seed and larvae represents significant components of their cost models. Reduction in revenue caused by the coronavirus have growers worried about not having enough funds to purchase seed to plant out next year’s crops or offset the cost of raising seed.
Commerce and the Department of Agriculture will work with Impact Washington to administer the funding through the Washington Shellfish Industry Seed Bank, according to Commerce. Qualified growers may apply for up to $5,000, with a minimum of $1,000 available to reimburse for larvae and seed purchases. Qualified purchases made between Feb. 29, 2020 and June 30, 2021 are eligible for reimbursement.
An additional $300 will be offered to encourage purchasing from Washington-based hatcheries, rather than out-of-state sources.
“The Shellfish Industry Seed Bank’s core objective is to create equity for Washington shellfish growers, ensure assistance is available to the majority of our growers, and help Washington-based businesses retain jobs by getting relief out quickly,” said Deloit R. Wolfe, Jr., president and center director of Impact Washington. “This program will reduce the potential multi-year economic impact on the shellfish businesses that might lead to the collapse of one of the state’s key industry sectors.”
Grant applications are available at https://www.impactwashington.org/shellfish-seed-bank-intake-form.aspx.