America's Fishing Industry Appeals for Help During COVID-19 Shutdown

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Published Mar 25, 2020 9:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

The leaders of America's domestic fishing industry have appealed to the Trump administration for help with the severe economic hardship created by the coronavirus epidemic. With consumers stuck at home and restaurants closed, the $100 billion-per-year demand for U.S. fishery products has evaporated overnight, according to the coalition - putting tens of thousands of well-paid jobs at risk. The coalition is calling for about $4 billion in federal assistance to maintain the fishery supply chain until the economy is back on its feet. 

"Supply chains cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. Once lost, a supply chain and the infrastructure that supports it can be exceptionally difficult and costly to restart. Failure to act boldly now to preserve our country’s domestic seafood infrastructure will impose far greater costs on our economy and cause permanent damage to our nation’s ability to harvest, farm, process, and distribute seafood products," the group wrote

Their request includes:

- Sustained USDA Section 32 funding at current levels, plus $2 billion for additional Section 32 activity supporting the domestically-produced seafood supply chain. The group asks for normal federal contracting rules to be lifted for these expenditures in order to accelerate disbursement. (Section 32 supports the purchase of food commodities, including fish, using customs tariff receipts.)

- An initial $1.5 billion for the Department of Commerce to provide direct relief using powers laid out in the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The funds would be used to offset fishery disasters caused by federal, state and local government responses to COVID-19.

- A minimum of $500 million for the Secretary of Commerce to purchase surplus commercial seafood that could be supplied to assisted living communities, hospitals and state and local government programs. "Facilitating direct government purchase of products that have gone unsold due to the government’s unprecedented response to the COVID-19 crisis would both ensure stability in this key sector and provide healthy proteins for Americans," the group said. 

The letter's signatories include executives from the National Fishieries Institute, Pacific Seafood, Trident Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Alyeska Seafoods, Cargill and a wide variety of smaller organizations.