The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is offering approximately $50 million (€44 million) in grants to support seafood processors, processing facilities and processing vessels in 23 US states, the agency told IntraFish on Monday.

The grants are designed to defray costs incurred by seafood processing facilities and processing vessels preparing for, preventing exposure to, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Alaska seafood processors have been offered the largest grant at nearly $30.7 million (€27.1 million), according to the USDA.

The Seafood Processors Pandemic Response and Safety Block Grant Program (SPRS) will be welcome relief to Alaska companies that incurred tens of millions in costs during the height of the pandemic for unique expenses such as having medical professionals onsite daily, providing PPE and medical and sanitation supplies, modifying plants for social distancing, and operating closed campuses in Alaska.

"That was an incredible expense and cost they incurred," USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt told IntraFish as to why USDA is now offering pandemic relief with the brunt of COVID cases on the decline across the country.

The grant will be distributed through state agencies and will help defray costs incurred between Jan. 27, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021 by seafood processing facilities and processing vessels.

While hospitalizations from COVID continue to decline across the United States, Alaska seafood processors are struggling with a challenging post-COVID economy that includes record-high inflation, supply chain hiccups and a lack of domestic and foreign labor.

Moffit added the USDA will work to distribute the funds in a timely manner.

"We understand how time sensitive it is and the urgency getting the money out the door," she said.

Confusion abounded in 2020 over how seafood companies could receive $300 million (€264 million) in funding offered as part of a $2 trillion (€1.8 trillion) coronavirus relief package. That funding was issued through NOAA.

The USDA grant recipients will include state agencies, commissions, or departments responsible for agriculture, fisheries, wildlife, seafood, commercial processing, or related commerce activities within Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, as well as the territory of American Samoa.

A separate $1 million (€880,659) relief grant is also available for tribal fisheries, Moffat added. This grant will be accessible through the USDA's website.

Once USDA has made awards, state agencies will provide funds to seafood processing facilities and processing vessels. The USDA seafood processors grant program is funded by pandemic assistance provided in the US Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.