Lawmakers push relief for West Coast seafood industry

Lawmakers push relief for West Coast seafood industry

By:  Gold Meadows and Staff

A bipartisan effort is underway to provide relief to local fishermen, seafood processors, and those facing food insecurity across the country.

Last month, lawmakers including Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting the purchase of West Coast seafood products for the USDA's Section 32 program.

Section 32 began in 1935, purchasing surplus food products from farms and fisheries to go to food assistance programs and the National School Lunch Program.

"The fishing families themselves, they provide essential jobs for several hundred miles along the Oregon coast. This would be a life boat for them. In addition to that life boat, we need to make sure that we've got a life line for the hungry people. And that's why we're requesting help from the Department of Agriculture," said Wyden.

Lacy Ogan, spokesperson for Pacific Seafood, says West Coast Seafood Processors Association, a coalition of processors, wrote a letter of their own to the Agriculture Marketing Service (which falls under the USDA) requesting Section 32 assistance.

"Being part of this USDA Section 32, along with the entire West Coast seafood industry, means that more people are going to have access to those healthy proteins. It's so important for heart health, for your brain health, especially for students in the school lunch program and how they're functioning in school," said Ogan.

Wyden calls the potential inclusion in the program a way to supplement lost revenue.

"Ukraine was a big source of our exports. Now that has fallen way off," said Wyden.

"We do continue to have this surplus from the war in Ukraine, as well as lingering issues as well from COVID. With the war in Ukraine where we lost that market for our whiting filets, now we have the opportunity instead of completely losing that to bring that back locally. Congress has been so helpful, especially Senators Merkley and Wyden, in coming through and then showing their support," said Ogan.

The Oregon Trawl Commission is also pursuing the USDA purchases of their seafood.

Yelena Nowak with the Commission says purchasing began in 2021 due to COVID impacts after restaurant markets collapsed.

Pacific Seafood would provide whiting, rockfish, and cold water shrimp through the program.