Fishermen will be able to count their crew as part of their employee payroll qualifying for Paycheck Protection Program loans under a federal rule change published Thursday that was eagerly sought by harvesters struggling to survive the industry downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fishermen have been hurt by poor markets for their products as restaurants, a key outlet for seafood, have been shuttered or reduced their service. But when the federal stimulus program was first unveiled, many captains of boats found they couldn’t include crew members, who are typically paid in shares of the catch, as part of their eligible payroll costs.

These PPP loans may be forgiven if certain conditions are met, including spending a large portion of the money to retain employees.

“We believe the purpose and intent of the Paycheck Protection Program is to help protect small businesses, including commercial fishing businesses. But as it stands now, that does not hold true and fishing businesses and crew members are unable to effectively access full PPP benefits,” wrote Robert Dooley, president of Seafood Harvesters of America, and Leigh Habegger, the organization’s executive director, in a May 7 letter to two U.S. senators to request support for the rule change.

Habegger, in a statement released Thursday, said the PPP provides a “critical lifeline.” She hopes eligible fishermen will take advantage of the program before a June 30 deadline for applications.