Friday, May 8, 2020

The U.S. Seafood Industry Is Looking for a $3 Billion Bailout

Via Politico's Morning Agriculture:
DIRE STRAITS FOR SEAFOOD SECTOR: A quarter of the Senate is calling for federal aid for fishermen and fish processors who have been hit hard by the closure of restaurants, which account for the bulk of all seafood sales. The surge in grocery sales has helped other ag sectors offset some of the lost demand — but shoppers are less likely to buy seafood to cook at home than other meats and fresh produce, and some stores have cut back on fish offerings.

In a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders, 25 senators led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Wednesday proposed appropriating $2 billion for USDA to buy up U.S. seafood and redistribute it to food banks and other nonprofits. Half of that money should be reserved for buying seafood products “that have not typically been purchased” by the department in past programs, they wrote....MORE
The letter to McConnell and Schumer is pretty interesting for a couple reasons.
First off it rightly ascribes blame for the situation to the mitigation efforts rather than, as some sloppy (or deceitful) writers are doing, blaming the virus itself, and secondly it points up the failure of the retail grocery market to make up for the loss of the restaurant and catering channel, something we've seen in other countries as well.:
....Due to efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has led to a near total shutdown of restaurants and other outlets serving fresh seafood, the supply chain of fishermen and seafood processors has been decimated. Notably, more than 68% of the $102.2 billion that consumers paid for U.S. fishery products in 2017 was spent at food service establishments. It has been reported that many of the nation’s fisheries have suffered sales declines as high as 95 percent. In addition, while many other agricultural sectors have seen a significant increase in grocery sales, seafood has been left out of that economic upside, as stores have cut back on offerings.

We strongly urge you to build on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently-announced seafood purchases and include in the next coronavirus relief package at least $2 billion for the USDA to purchase additional domestically harvested and processed seafood products and distribute them to local, state, and national non-profits providing food to hungry Americans. Given that few seafood producers have historically participated in USDA commodity purchasing programs, we request that $1 billion be set aside to finance the purchase by USDA of seafood products that have not typically been purchased and that have experienced economic impacts as a result of coronavirus.

We also ask that you include an additional $1 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the terms of section 12005 of the CARES Act (P.L. 116-136) in order to provide direct relief to Tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants impacted by coronavirus. We request that Congress appropriate and direct the Secretary to immediately make funding available to all fishery participants, including commercial and recreational fishing and seafood businesses that have been impacted by declines in tourism and the closure of restaurants and other food service industries....MORE