Merkley, Wyden, DeFazio, Bonamici Announce $16.5 Million Purchase of Pacific Seafood

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will purchase $16.5 million of Pacific seafood through its commodities purchasing program, with over 80 percent of the fish and shrimp coming from Oregon.

“Not only do our fisheries deliver incredible products all around the world, they have also been the lifeblood of communities up and down Oregon’s coast for generations,” said Merkley, who led several Congressional pushes to ensure that USDA included Pacific Northwest fishermen and seafood processors in important purchasing programs. “That’s why I’ve been pushing to ensure that our fishermen and seafood processors receive the assistance they need to weather the coronavirus crisis, and I’m glad the USDA has delivered on this significant purchase of quality Pacific Northwest seafood.”

“This is great news for our coastal fisheries and the processors that provides them well-deserved support for their signature Oregon industry—generating jobs and economic activity rippling out statewide,” Wyden said. “The financial fallout from this public health crisis has landed hard along the Oregon Coast, and I’m gratified that USDA has come through with these resources for our state’s world-renowned fisheries and processors.”

“Oregon’s fisheries are an economic engine for our coast, our state, and nation. They create and sustain jobs, support coastal economies, and feed American families,” DeFazio said. “USDA’s purchase will ensure that fishermen and seafood processors along Oregon’s coast can weather the economic impacts of COVID-19.”

“Fisheries are an integral part of coastal economy,” Bonamici said. “I advocated for fisheries to receive the support they needed to survive the pandemic, and I’m encouraged that USDA is making this large purchase from Pacific Seafood. This purchase will benefit our fishermen, workers, and the local economy.”

“We’d like to thank our Senators, Congressmen, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for their support,” West Coast Seafood Processors Association Executive Director Lori Steele said. “These purchases will continue to help supplement and stabilize our fishing and processing crews and their families through these difficult times. Soon, these delicious, sustainable, and nutritious seafood products will reach consumers through food assistance programs across the country.”

“Over the last 19 months, the economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Oregon trawl sector have been staggering,” said Yelena Nowak, Director of the Oregon Trawl Commission. “A loss of primary markets for our products in 2020 and a sluggish recovery of those markets throughout 2021 have strained the industry, putting many of our businesses under a tremendous economic pressure. The USDA purchase of Pink shrimp, Pacific rockfish, and whiting from the Pacific Northwest is a much-needed relief that will help our fishing and processing businesses remain operational and profitable, while continuing to support hundreds of local jobs. We are grateful and excited about the opportunity to provide many American families in need with high quality nutritious seafood products sustainably harvested in the cold pristine ocean waters off the PNW.”

This purchase includes $8.9 million of Pacific whiting fillets, $3.9 million of Pacific rockfish fillets, and $3.7 million of Pacific salad shrimp. It follows USDA’s first major purchase of the year in May, which included $45.9 million of Pacific seafood.

In April, Merkley led West Coast lawmakers—including Wyden, DeFazio and Bonamici—in pushing USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack to make sure urgently needed federal assistance was delivered to West Coast fishermen and seafood processors, who have been hit hard by the ongoing coronavirus crisis and were being largely left out of USDA commodity purchasing programs. Most seafood in America is consumed in restaurants and the collapse of restaurant demand during the pandemic has hurt fishermen and seafood processors.

That followed a previous, bipartisan effort that Merkley led in 2020 to urge the USDA to include seafood products in its commodity purchasing programs.