Senators Wyden and Merkley: “America’s fishing industry needs help….and NOW!”

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today requested that the Government Accountability Office conduct a study to explore ways to ensure that American fisheries receive the expanded economic support they desperately need, by increasing the volume and variety of seafood products the federal government purchases through the U.S.  Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Procurement Program (CPP).

“The seafood industry is critical to local and regional economies across the country and is largely sustained by the sale of fresh product. Notably, more than 68 percent of the $102.2 billion that consumers paid for U.S. fishery products in 2017 was spent at food service establishments. Because of the coronavirus, this market evaporated, and the supply chain for fishermen and seafood processors was decimated,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

“Because of its established pathways for purchasing and distributing surplus food, USDA is the only federal agency capable of providing the necessary real-time assistance due to demand-side disruptions. As such, USDA has an important role to play in supporting the seafood industry, including fishermen and processors,” continuaron los legisladores.

The lawmakers also highlighted that historically, USDA food purchasing contracts have been awarded to just a handful of processors in a few select states—leaving many processors, and the families who rely on them, without assistance. Among them, seafood processors have had the least access to support—as outlined in a Congressional Research Service analysis, the agency has spent over $1.2 billion on meat products, compared to just $153 million worth of a limited number of seafood products through the Section 32 program.

Merkley—who serves as the top Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the USDA—plans to use the results of the requested GAO study to determine how to more effectively use federal purchasing power to support the fishing and seafood industries in the future through increases in the volume and variety of seafood products purchased.

Today’s letter is part of an ongoing push by Merkley and Reed to secure more support for fisheries amid the coronavirus pandemic, which previously included a carta bipartidista signed by more than two dozen lawmakers of both parties.