Merkley, Wyden Lead Colleagues in Push to Extend Federal Purchasing of West Coast Seafood

Merkley, Wyden Lead Colleagues in Push to Extend Federal Purchasing of West Coast Seafood

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today led colleagues in a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the Department to continue purchasing seafood from the West Coast. Senator Merkley and Wyden were joined by Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Patty Murray (D-WA), and Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) in pushing USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack to make sure West Coast fishermen and seafood processors remain supported and a priority for USDA commodity purchasing programs. 

“On average, commercial fishermen on the West Coast deliver more than $500 million in ex-vessel value per annum, accounting for 13% of the value of total U.S. seafood production,” wrote the lawmakers. “A quarter of all American seafood processing and wholesale jobs are located in Washington, Oregon, and California, representing the largest employment opportunity among all seafood-producing regions in the U.S. The domestic seafood sector is also a critically important component of America’s food production system, supporting more than 1.2 million jobs, generating more than $144 billion in sales impacts, and contributing more than $61 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product.  

“As with rural economies everywhere, but perhaps most acutely in small coastal communities, COVID-19 had a devastating impact and a primary driver of that impact was the effect on the fishing and processing industry,” they continued. “According to a report issued by NOAA Fisheries in December 2021, ex-vessel revenue fell by 27% from 2019-2020 and seafood dealers and processors sustained a decline in value added of $598 million (or 13.47%) as well.? The West Coast saw a larger decline in revenue from commercial fishing landings than all regions as a whole, with a dip of 24% in 2020 as compared to a five year baseline (2015-2019).? NOAA found that a significant part of the lost value was due to restaurant closures and reduced export. 

Senators Merkley and Wyden have been long-time advocates leading the push to ensure the USDA includes Pacific Northwest fishermen and seafood processors in important purchasing programs. Most recently the Senators secured $16.5 million in Pacific seafood purchases

Full text of the letter can be found here and below: 

Dear Secretary Vilsack, 

Commercial fishing and seafood processing on the West Coast is a significant contributor to U.S. seafood production and also a key part of our country’s agricultural and food production system as a whole.? Perhaps more importantly, the industries are the economic and community backbone of the small ports and vibrant rural towns that dot our Pacific shorelines.?  

On average, commercial fishermen on the West Coast deliver more than $500 million in ex-vessel value per annum, accounting for 13% of the value of total U.S. seafood production. A quarter of all American seafood processing and wholesale jobs are located in Washington, Oregon, and California, representing the largest employment opportunity among all seafood-producing regions in the U.S. The domestic seafood sector is also a critically important component of America’s food production system, supporting more than 1.2 million jobs, generating more than $144 billion in sales impacts, and contributing more than $61 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product.  

As with rural economies everywhere, but perhaps most acutely in small coastal communities, COVID-19 had a devastating impact and a primary driver of that impact was the effect on the fishing and processing industry.? According to a report issued by NOAA Fisheries in December 2021, ex-vessel revenue fell by 27% from 2019-2020 and seafood dealers and processors sustained a decline in value added of $598 million (or 13.47%) as well.1? The West Coast saw a larger decline in revenue from commercial fishing landings than all regions as a whole, with a dip of 24% in 2020 as compared to a five year baseline (2015-2019).? NOAA found that a significant part of the lost value was due to restaurant closures and reduced export.2 

Last year under your leadership, USDA purchased just over $16 million in West Coast seafood products, providing a significant boost for the industry and our coastal communities.? We are very thankful for that purchase but note that other regions have received significantly more support during the pandemic.? USDA’s procurement programs are critical for ensuring that our food production systems remain robust, essential workers remain employed, supply chains keep operating, and America’s nutritional needs are met. ?We thus request that you include appropriate Pacific Northwest and West Coast seafood products that are currently being produced in large volumes, are easily accessible, and easily transportable for immediate distribution to food assistance programs. 

Thank you very much for USDA’s assistance in assisting our region’s coastal economies.  

Sincerely, 

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