Senators call for federal support for fishing and seafood industry in coronavirus response
March 24, 2020
On Wednesday March 23, four senators called for urgent support for the fishing industry as it faces serious economic difficulties following the covid-19 pandemic.
Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) And Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) addressed a letter to the Senate noting that the closure of national restaurants and international markets have created widespread slowdowns and closures for fishermen and seafood processors.
As part of the urgent support, the letter highlights various ways Congress can help the industry, including: establishing federal procurement programs for U.S. seafood, federal funding for aid to disaster fisheries and the inclusion of support mechanisms for assisting the payment of loans to vessels in any economy-wide coronavirus response package.
Read on for the full text of the letter, addressed to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
As you work to draft economic contingency plans to respond to the current health and economic crisis caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we urge you to include support for the fishing industry, which faces severe economic hardship as a result of this pandemic.
The fishing and seafood industries are critical engines of the US economy, with $ 5.6 billion in fishery products landed and $ 11.6 billion in processed fishery products in 2018. L he COVID-19 outbreak has caused restaurant closures across the United States, wiping out customers in the fishing and seafood industries. Major export markets in virus-affected countries like China were also disturbed. In addition, many fishermen are not entitled to unemployment benefits because they are self-employed. Congress must provide dedicated financial assistance to these vital industries to ensure that, when this crisis is over, we will still have a strong fishing economy.
Some fisheries are completely closed because there is no market for their fish. Seafood processors are struggling as closed restaurants no longer buy fresh produce. When boats are stuck in port, unable to fish, fishing masters cannot repay the vessel’s loan or pay crew members. Crew members often depend on their captains to provide meals during fishing trips, and therefore lack meals and wages. Without congressional help, this industry could go bankrupt on the dock.
When assessing potential support, Congress should consider establishing federal procurement programs specifically for US seafood; help fishermen pay and refinance vessel loans; qualifying fishermen for unemployment insurance; funding for federal disaster assistance; and the deployment of other financial support mechanisms to maintain the stability of the seafood industry. We also strongly support strong funding from the National Marine Fisheries Service as part of the regular credit allocation process to ensure that the global pandemic does not jeopardize the management of our country’s fisheries.
We urge you to take into account the unique and terrible plight of fishermen and seafood producers in the next legislative response to COVID-19. Without help, we face the real possibility of losing a significant portion of our fishing industry to the economic challenges caused by COVID-19, and forever changing the character of our functional waterfronts.