May 07, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Angus King (I-Maine) joined a bipartisan group of 25 Senators in pushing for more federal assistance to America’s fishermen and seafood processors, who have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. In their letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the senators request that upcoming coronavirus relief legislation include new funding and provisions to support fisheries around the nation.
“Our seafood processors and fishermen have been dealt a significant economic blow as a result of coronavirus and are in desperate need of federal assistance,” the senators wrote. “It has been reported that many of the nation’s fisheries have suffered sales declines as high as 95 percent. In addition, while many other agricultural sectors have seen a significant increase in grocery sales, seafood has been left out of that economic upside, as stores have cut back on offerings.”
“The seafood industry is currently facing an unprecedented collapse in demand because of the novel coronavirus. We urge you to facilitate the government purchase of seafood products that would both ensure stability in this key sector and provide healthy, domestically produced food for Americans,” the senators continued.
Specifically, the senators recommend the allocation of $2 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase and redistribute seafood products to food banks—just as the agency is currently doing for agricultural products. In addition, the letter requests that an additional $1 billion—on top of the $300 million in the CARES Act— be allocated to NOAA to support direct payments to fishermen, processors, dealers, and others in the seafood supply chain.
Not only do Maine fisheries supply healthy food to tables across America, they have long been the lifeblood of coastal economies in Maine. NOAA’s most recent Fisheries Economics of the United States report estimated that our state’s fishing and seafood industry supports approximately 42,000 jobs and generated more than $2.5 billion in sales in 2016. In addition to the jobs, families, and communities it supports, Maine’s seafood industry fuels jobs throughout the country in processing, distribution, and food service industries.
Senators Collins and King were joined in sending the bipartisan letter by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jack Reed (D-R.I), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
Throughout the pandemic, Senators Collins and King have advocated for Maine’s food producers to be supported by the USDA and other federal agencies. The senators joined Maine Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) to urge the USDA to include Maine potatoes in its nutrition program, to call for direct relief for aquaculture farmers, and to push for support for New England dairy farmers.
The full text of the letter is available HERE and is available below.
We write to urge the inclusion of support for the American seafood industry in the next coronavirus relief measure. Our seafood processors and fishermen have been dealt a significant economic blow as a result of coronavirus and are in desperate need of federal assistance.
The seafood industry is critical to local and regional economies across the country. In 2016, the industry supported over one million good-paying jobs and generated more than $144 billion in sales, adding an estimated $61 billion to the nation’s GDP. In addition to the jobs, families, and communities it supports along every part of our country’s coastlines, the seafood industry fuels jobs throughout the country in processing and distribution.
Due to efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has led to a near total shutdown of restaurants and other outlets serving fresh seafood, the supply chain of fishermen and seafood processors has been decimated. Notably, more than 68% of the $102.2 billion that consumers paid for U.S. fishery products in 2017 was spent at food service establishments. It has been reported that many of the nation’s fisheries have suffered sales declines as high as 95 percent. In addition, while many other agricultural sectors have seen a significant increase in grocery sales, seafood has been left out of that economic upside, as stores have cut back on offerings.
We strongly urge you to include in the next coronavirus relief package at least $2 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase domestically harvested and processed seafood products and distribute them to local, state, and national non-profits providing food to hungry Americans. Given that few seafood producers have historically participated in USDA commodity purchasing programs, we request that $1 billion be set aside to finance the purchase by USDA of seafood products that have not typically been purchased and that have experienced economic impacts as a result of coronavirus.
We also ask that you include an additional $1 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the terms of section 12005 of the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) in order to provide direct relief to Tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants impacted by coronavirus. We request that Congress appropriate and permit the Secretary to make funding available as soon as practicable to all fishery participants, including commercial and recreational fishing and seafood businesses that have been impacted by declines in tourism and the closure of restaurants and other food service industries.
The seafood industry is currently facing an unprecedented collapse in demand because of the novel coronavirus. We urge you to facilitate the government purchase of seafood products that would both ensure stability in this key sector and provide healthy, domestically produced food for Americans.
Thank you for your attention to this critical request, and for your continued support of America’s seafood industry.