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Where is money for Long Island's fishing industry?

A commercial fisherman sorts fluke on Long Island

A commercial fisherman sorts fluke on Long Island Sound. Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

Daily Point

Fish or cut bait

Containing more than $2 trillion in stimulus spending, the CARES Act seemingly had something for everybody reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. That includes the nation’s fishermen, many of whom call Long Island their home. CARES contains $300 million to compensate both those who live off the sales of their catches and those whose boats are chartered by recreational anglers.

Boats that docked in Montauk alone in 2018 nabbed 12 million pounds of fish and cleared $18 million for the catch.

But for six weeks, none of the appropriated $300 million had been divvied up or released, and Rep. Lee Zeldin was badgering Congress and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for details on how it would be divided and paid out.  Then, Thursday afternoon, information began to trickle out. The money is reportedly being allotted based on past-year revenues of each state’s fishing industries, so much of it went to big fishing states. Sen. Susan Collins tweeted that Maine, for instance, got about $20 million.

And Zeldin said he was hearing New York got $6 million, which he said would be nowhere near enough to stabilize a local industry hobbled by the quarantine. The problem, advocates say, is not an unfair division of funds, but that $300 million is not enough.

Alaska, for instance, reportedly got $50 million and brings in about $5 billion annually.  

Because the quarantine has shuttered both the restaurants that buy Long Island’s catch and the charter-boat service, those who make their living on the water are really suffering.

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said the combination of restaurant closures and restrictions on charters have boat owners earning hardly anything, whether they go out or not. The fact that New York does not have its own commercial processing of fish is making things even worse.

“When the restaurants closed, the market died,” Brady said, pointing out that it’s been a problem for months because much of Long Island’s catch also ends up in Europe, where the shutdowns came earlier. “Commercial fishermen are also essential workers, and heroes, out there every day working to feed people. They are still working now, many of them, they’re just getting 1970s prices for their catch, and they need help.”

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Democrats in CD1 share a similar strategy

Democratic candidates in New York’s 1st Congressional District share a strategy these days: Tie Rep. Lee Zeldin to President Donald Trump. 

In a letter hitting voters’ mailboxes this week, Stony Brook scientist Nancy Goroff calls the Shirley Republican “a puppet for Trump, parroting White House talking points on Fox News.”

That’s similar to Suffolk County Legis. Bridget Fleming’s language in a late April letter: “Zeldin has made it his priority to defend this President and the dangerous agenda.”

And campaign emails from Perry Gershon, who failed to oust Zeldin in 2018,  likewise brand him  a Trump defender and “squad” member. 

Will it work? 

Zeldin’s fortunes may depend on how Trump is faring in CD1. In the first days of March, before the coronavirus quarantine, the president’s personal favorability was just above water: 49% favorable vs. 48% unfavorable, according to a Global Strategy Group poll from Democrat-supporting super PAC Taking Action Suffolk County. The poll, shared with The Point on Thursday, has a margin of error of +/- 4.8%.

One interpretation of that survey of likely general election voters is that it’s a relative high-water mark for Trump. 

Polls have since registered disapproval for the federal government’s handling of the pandemic, and a Monmouth University national poll of registered voters released this week showed Trump registering 40% favorable to 53% unfavorable opinion, a bit more negative than other recent polls. 

Zeldin has walked a careful political tightrope during the pandemic, broadcasting bipartisanship and the need for federal help for New York — as when he praised the work of freshman New York Democrat Rep. Antonio Delgado during a Tuesday Zoom appearance. Meanwhile, he has kept the lines of communication open with the White House, including a visit last month to discuss the COVID-19 response. 

Zeldin spokeswoman Katie Vincentz highlighted his push along with the N.Y. delegation for direct and local funding: “Rep. Zeldin is willing to work with anyone to get Long Islanders the resources they need.” 

That TASC poll found him comfortably ahead of a generic Democrat, 52% to 35%, with some room for Democratic improvement with a focus on issues like health care and guns. 

Of course, that point-in-time sample is in the past, current events-wise. Things could get worse for Trump. Or he could rebound or hold the line, given his strong base of support in districts like CD1. A pre-midterms TASC poll of CD1 from September 2018 found Trump’s approval ratings fully below water, and Zeldin ended up beating Gershon by 4 percentage points, withstanding a national blue wave.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Modern-day Atlas

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Final Point

A more efficient means of COVID-19 data entry

When the first cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed in Suffolk County, it was relatively painless for a team of people to enter the COVID-19-related data, which came from the state, into the county’s system.

But as the virus spread, and cases increased, it became, according to Scott Mastellon, Suffolk’s information technology commissioner, “unmanageable.”

By March 20, a dozen Suffolk employees found themselves downloading and printing state reports, and reentering the data into the county’s system. It was tedious and time-consuming, and Mastellon knew it wasn’t sustainable. 

So he reached out to Great Neck-based SVAM International, a software company that had demonstrated its robotic processes and automation to the county.

Within 11 days, SVAM, which has 700 employees worldwide, about 70 of whom are based in Great Neck, had a new system up and running for the county. The system could automatically pull the information from the state into the county’s system, clean up the data, and analyze it. Suddenly, the staff was free to go back to the tasks the county needed them to do, and data was updated more quickly and accurately. SVAM’s system also freed up the county’s team of 150 nurses, some employed by, and others contracted by, the county, who had sifted through seemingly endless pages of labs to find COVID-19-positive cases to contact each patient and provide necessary information. The robotic process was able to find and sort those cases more easily and quickly.

Old Westbury resident Anil Kapoor, who founded SVAM in 1994, said his company had spent the last couple of years focused on health care, among other areas it was able to help governments automate. SVAM has worked with the New York State Liquor Authority, the New York City School Construction Authority, and Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini, who faced an increased workload due to the state’s new bail reform laws, Kapoor said.  

Kapoor said he has spoken with Nassau officials about doing something similar for the county, and hopes to work with other municipalities that want to better automate the collection and analysis of their COVID-19 data.

“There are so many benefits these bots are able to bring to the table,” Kapoor told The Point. “I think this is going to be the new norm.”

Mastellon told The Point that he hopes to use SVAM’s work to make the county more automated and efficient. Suffolk’s IT department also has evaluated as many as 25 other vendor proposals for other technological upgrades, in areas like asset management and inventory management, which includes personal protective equipment for hospitals and other institutions.

“It’s a horrible event … but it’s also a significant opportunity technologically to implement innovative technological solutions, to leapfrog us to become more modernized,” Mastellon said. “That’s the one silver lining I can take out of this whole, horrific thing.”

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall