Seafood Drowned Out in House Version of Relief Package

Updated: Apr 2

By Jay Sterne and Emily Patrolia

Here we are in 2021, yet it feels like we are in the 15th month of 2020. So many in the U.S. are dealing with the cumulative and ongoing impacts of COVID, and the next round of federal relief will be critical for many sectors around the country. On Friday House Democrats passed their American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319) in a first step towards making President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan a reality.

Unfortunately for the fishermen, seafood processors, and all the ancillary industries that depend on them, the final version of this massive relief package neglects the seafood sector.

The original text of the bill included $4 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase and distribute agricultural commodities, including seafood, and make grants for food processors, including seafood processing facilities and processing vessels.

However, in a last minute amendment, the terms “seafood” and “seafood processing facilities and processing vessels” were struck from the bill. It is rumored to have been due to parliamentary concerns related to which committees the bill would be referred to in the Senate for the reconciliation process.

This is not the first time the seafood industry has been left out or forgotten, but it should not go down this way. These hurdles, while seemingly made without malice or ill will toward the seafood industry, are unacceptable barriers to the U.S. seafood industry receiving much needed relief.

Per NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. seafood industry supported 1.2 million jobs and added $69.2 billion to our nation’s gross domestic product in 2017. Not only is this industry an economic bedrock for local and regional economies, but they are woven into the fabric of our society and our identity as a nation.

COVID-19 has devastated the industry. A study on the effects of COVID-19 on fisheries in the U.S. found that catches declined by 40 percent, imports by 37 percent, and exports decreased by 43 percent compared to the previous year. Consumer demand for seafood from restaurants dropped by nearly 70 percent during lockdowns, with recovery varying by state as restaurants reopened.