Update 06/29/2020: Rockland Trust said this morning the bank "will make every reasonable effort to process all complete PPP application packages for fishing boat owners prior to the cessation of the program on June 30th, 2020."

The Small Business Administration announced Thursday that owners of commercial fishing vessels are now eligible to apply for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans -- giving them only three business days to get their paperwork in before the program expires at the end of the month.

The PPP program was designed to let small business owners keep workers on payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic. The loans can be fully forgivable if the recipient uses at least 60 percent of the funding to pay workers.

Advocates for the fisheries on Friday praised the move from the SBA while encouraging fishing boat owners to hustle on down to their local banks to get their applications in. All PPP loans must be approved no later than than June 30.

"We're hearing that many banks stopped taking PPP loan applications on Friday," said National Coalition for Fishing Communities Executive Director Robert Vanasse. "With this news from the SBA, we hope that local banks will extend that window until Tuesday."

The industry group praised the news from the SBA and thanked members of the Trump administration, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and the staff of the Small Business Administration.

"As fishermen deal with the ongoing changes to the industry caused by the COVID-19 crisis, these protections will help support livelihoods and ensure our fishing communities remain strong," the coalition said on Friday.

Fishing boat owners previously did not qualify for the PPP loan program. That's because they tend to pay their crew as independent contractors. But the SBA on June 25 determined that crew members are more like partners in a joint venture because their pay is dependent upon the size and value of the catch. It's complicated, but that last-minute rule from the SBA now opens the PPP program to the commercial fisheries.

Congress allocated more than $650 billion to the PPP program and more than 4.7 million loans have been approved worth about $517 billion, according to the SBA.

To guard against double-dipping, payments made to crew members who applied for their own PPP loans can't be counted. Also, due to the risk of duplicate payroll costs, "PPP loans to fishing boat owners are more likely to be subject to an SBA loan review," the SBA stated.

The commercial fisheries have been hit hard by the coronavirus. The market for fresh fish took a dive when restaurants and bars in the U.S. and abroad closed down during the pandemic. Domestic seafood exports to China also took a tumble. Other factors have also affected the seafood market and jobs in the commercial fisheries.

Saving Seafood also acknowledged the work of Port of New Bedford Deputy Director Pamela Lafrenier for getting the changes made at the SBA.

In other COVID aid, the USDA agreed to buy more domestic seafood and the Massachusetts fisheries received $28 million under the CARES Act. That program, with spending plans approved by NOAA, included direct payments, fishery-related infrastructure, and fishery-related education to address direct and indirect COVID-19 impacts.

Read More: Mass. Fisheries Hit By COVID Shutdowns To Get $28M in Federal Aid | https://wbsm.com/massachusetts-fisheries-hit-by-covid-shutdowns-to-get-28m-in-cares-act-aid/?utm_source=tsmclip&utm_medium=referral

Mary Serreze can be reached at mary.serreze@townsquaremedia.com