Four U.S. senators and six U.S. House of Representatives members from Washington, Oregon and California have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue purchases of West Coast seafood products for the economic benefit of the industry and coastal communities.
Pacific Northwest and West Coast seafood products are currently being produced in large volumes, easily accessible and easily transportable for immediate distribution to food assistance program, they told Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack in a letter, noting economic challenges the seafood industry has been facing, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the war in Ukraine.
The purchases are being made under Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1935, which authorizes USDA to support prices of commodities in surplus by purchasing them in the marketplace and to distribute these commodities domestically.
The Congressmembers cited a report from NOAA Fisheries, which said the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating impact and was a primary driver of ex-vessel revenue falling by 27% from 2019 -2020, with seafood dealers and processors sustaining a decline in value added of $598 million, or 13.47%, as well.
The West Coast saw a larger decline in revenue from commercial fishing landings than all regions as a whole, with a dip of 24% in 2020 as compared to a five-year baseline (2015-2019), they said. A significant part of that lost value was due to restaurant closures and reduced export, according to the NOAA report.
While restaurant demand is now showing promise, the industry still faces challenges, they said. West Coast seafood exports have fallen, due in part of general economic uncertainty and more recently due to the war in Ukraine, which had seen imports of U.S. seafood worth nearly $95 million in 2021, they said.
The letter was signed by Senators Jeffrey Merkley and Ron Wyden, both D- Ore., Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Alex Padilla, D-Calif. Other signers were Representatives Suzanne Bonamici, Val Hoyle, Andrea Salinas and Gluesenkamp Perez, all D-Ore., Lori Chavez-DeRemer, R-Ore. and Jared Huffman, D-Calif.