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Courtney Leads Coastal Representatives in Providing Feedback on How New COVID-19 Funds Can Best Support Seafood Industries

April 1, 2021
Press Release
Representatives offer feedback informed by local fishermen and shellfish growers on the needs of seafood sector

NORWICH, CT – Today, Representatives Joe Courtney (CT-02), Andy Kim (NJ-03), Jim Langevin (RI-02), Frank Pallone (NJ-06), and Chellie Pingree (ME-01) shared a letter they sent to President Joe Biden, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in support of the seafood and shellfish industry. H.R. 133, passed by Congress in December 2020, authorized $1.5 billion in continued grants and loans to farmers, producers, seafood processing facilities, and others to respond to COVID-19. After receiving significant input on the needs on the ground from fishermen, shellfish farmers, and other seafood producers, the Members wrote to the Biden Administration with feedback on how the new funding can best be put to use to provide stability and resiliency to the seafood industry, which has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.

In their letter, the Representatives highlighted concerns over important regional price differences for shellfish and seafood purchasing programs, and encouraged USDA to strengthen the economic recovery by focusing seafood purchasing resources on U.S. harvested and U.S. processed seafood. They also encouraged USDA to provide relief to seafood producers, processors, and wholesalers through a model similar to the successful Seafood Trade Relief Assistance Program, which helped offset the steep drop-off in seafood prices caused by retaliatory tariffs by providing fishermen and vessels with direct funding to make up for the losses in rates per-pound:

“Regarding the shellfish and fishing communities, we write to strongly encourage USDA to consider regional price differences when purchasing a commodity in any federal purchase program. In New England, for example, certain shellfish prices may be naturally higher than in the Southeastern part of the country. Additionally, we believe that a seafood purchasing program, if done correctly, could stabilize prices and create a strong recovery. If the purchasing program focused on U.S. harvested and U.S. processed seafood, that would create even more resiliency in the sector and enable those in need to consume American-caught seafood at home. […]”

“[…] Most seafood in our country is consumed in restaurants. Because of the shrinking domestic market due to COVID-19, prices for certain products, including squid, dropped by almost 50% and most product fishermen brought in was then exported overseas and subject to tariffs. USDA’s Seafood Trade Relief Program allowed vessels to receive rates per pound to make up for the tariffs on products. Modeling a future relief program on the success of the USDA Seafood Trade Relief Assistance would be very helpful for our producers, wholesalers, and processors.”

Additionally, the Representatives encouraged USDA to consider relief aid for infrastructure investments for the seafood and shellfish industry, like repairs and safety improvements for fishing vessels, dockside equipment to unload and handle catches, refrigeration units for shellfish growers, and more. The members also provided feedback on how federal agencies can assist the shellfish industry with direct marketing efforts—given that the closure of restaurants caused many shellfish growers to shift to direct-to-consumer sales, this support would provide shellfish growers with a much-needed boost and more long-term resilience for the sector.

“Few shellfish growers were engaged in direct marketing efforts before the COVID-19 pandemic, but, with the closure of restaurants, many growers shifted to direct to consumer sales to keep their businesses operating. Grants to help shellfish growers purchase equipment, including refrigerated units, would enable the sector to continue direct marketing and provide more locally grown seafood to consumers. Additionally, direct marketing grants could also include value-added product development, grants for processing facilities to start up in new regions, and grants for the expansion of existing processing facilities. […]”

“In addition to the work USDA is doing to provide grant, loan, and other opportunities to shellfish growers, we also have feedback on the needs of the fishing industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As you may be aware, fishing is a dangerous industry. Many local fishermen are operating on boats that are decades old and they often do not have the ability to invest in growing their business or passing them along to the next generation. To create more fishing industry resilience, we believe that USDA should consider providing funds for training and certifications to fishermen or partnering with other federal agencies on this, allowing them to invest in their education, their fleet, and their equipment.

“Additionally, in many of our communities, our fishermen are using antiquated unloading facilities to bring the product from the boats to the shore. Infrastructure investments for unloading and handling facilities would help ensure that our fishermen can quickly bring their catch in locally.”

The Representatives also recommend that the Biden Administration support local hunger and prepared meal organizations so that they can offer more healthy seafood to Americans during the pandemic through programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Many organizations have been unable to offer seafood products through TEFAP due to a lack of packaging capability. Additional federal support would enable more Americans to add healthy seafood to their diets while also supporting the seafood industry.

“[…] Though USDA is trying to add more seafood products to the list of TEFAP food stuffs, fishermen and shellfish farmers have been unable to access this important relief program due to the lack of packaging capability.

“This also means many Americans that rely on food banks and prepared meal organizations are denied healthy seafood as part of their diet. USDA should give grants and technical assistance to hunger organizations so they can purchase the infrastructure and obtain the necessary certifications, if needed, to safely work with seafood purchased from local fishermen.”

Following months of continued contact, updates, and support for fishermen and shellfish growers, the Representatives provided several other recommendations—including the appointment of a new seafood point-person to ensure coordination amongst relevant federal agencies. To read the full letter, click here.