Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on the Future of the U.S. Commercial Seafood Industry

This morning, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation convened a hearing titled, Building a Stronger and More Resilient Seafood Sector to examine the national and regional impact of COVID-19 on the seafood industry and the likely effect of fisheries disaster funding provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Presided over by the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), the hearing featured testimony from:

  •  Dr. Paul Doremus, the Deputy Assistant Administrator of Operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA);
  •  Ms. Leann Bosarge, Council Member, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council;
  •  Ms. Cora Campbell, Council Member, North Pacific Fishery Management Council; and
  •  Mr. Phil Anderson, Chair, Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Ms. Bosarge’s testimony focused on the impact of COVID-19 on commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, explaining that there have been significant adverse effects felt across industries. Ms. Bosarge, along with other witnesses, emphasized the importance of restaurants in the supply chain for domestically produced seafood and the need to develop and augment alternative channels of distribution for U.S. seafood, through retail and enhanced direct-to-consumer options.

In order to assist the recovery of U.S. commercial fishermen and the continued viability of the seafood industry, Ms. Bosarge recommended:  (1) increased testing of imported seafood to prevent contaminated fish products from reaching American consumers; (2) the adoption of programs to incentivize restaurants to provide country-of-origin labeling for seafood offered on their menus; (3) the establishment of an infrastructure for a nationwide seafood marketplace; (4) the expansion of domestic seafood options for school lunch programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); (5) the extension of young fishermen development programs to train a new generation of commercial fishermen; (6) the reform of the United States Coast Guard’s Alternative Safety Compliance Program for Commercial Fishing Vessels; and (7) the implementation of initiatives to significantly reduce the hypoxic (dead) zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

At the hearing, witnesses expressed widespread support for the expansion of the USDA’s seafood purchases in the procurement programs administered by that agency. Senator Wicker explained that he had recently been involved in discussions with USDA regarding expansion and was surprised to learn that the agency considered shrimp to be a luxury product, akin to lobster. The witnesses and participating Senators also expressed a strong desire to see the fisheries disaster assistance authorized under the CARES Act, as well as any additional funds provided by future legislation, distributed quickly to industry members.

Watch the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s July 29, 2020 hearing, Building a Stronger and More Resilient Seafood Sector here:

Read Ms. Leann Bosarge’s Written Testimony for the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s July 29, 2020 hearing, Building a Stronger and More Resilient Seafood Sector here:

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