U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Building a Stronger and More Resilient Seafood Sector,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. This hearing will examine the national and regional impacts of COVID-19 on the seafood industry and the effects of the fish disaster funding provided in the CARES Act. Witnesses will have the opportunity to discuss the work that needs to be done to sustain and restore a more resilient U.S. seafood sector.
- Ms. Leann Bosarge, Council Member, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
- Ms. Cora Campbell, Council Member, North Pacific Fishery Management Council
- Dr. Paul Doremus, Deputy Assistant Administrator of Operations, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Mr. Phil Anderson, Chair, Pacific Fishery Management Council
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Full Committee Hearing
This hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
*In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
**Witness list updated 7/28/2020
Chairman Roger Wicker
The Committee has conducted several hearings related to COVID-19 oversight, and today we will examine the impact of the pandemic on the American seafood industry and ways to build a stronger and more resilient seafood supply chain.
Fisheries across the nation have reported as much as a 90 percent sales decline during the COVID-19 pandemic. All sectors of the seafood industry, including fishermen, aquaculture producers, seafood processors, distributors, and restaurants, have been impacted. In the Gulf of Mexico, commercial fishermen have seen an 80 percent decrease in the price of fish. Products such as Gulf shrimp and oysters, which are primarily purchased at restaurants, have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic. These losses have crippled our nation’s fisheries, and will have negative impacts on coastal communities around the country.
Witnesses will have the opportunity to discuss both the immediate job loss and long-term impacts of this crisis on the seafood industry.
In March, Congress included $300 million in support for the fishing industry in the CARES Act, because we recognized the immediate financial crisis our fisheries faced. This support is still in the process of being distributed to states, four months later. This delay is frustrating. Our economy needs relief now.
Chronic delays in the distribution of fishery disaster relief have led me to introduce legislation to streamline the fisheries disaster declaration process and hold the federal government accountable.
The CARES Act included more than $9 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide support for farmers and ranchers and to buy agricultural commodities. I am pleased this will support our ranchers and farmers, but the benefit to our fishermen and seafood farmers is limited. I have personally requested that USDA expand food purchases to include additional seafood.
The Committee is interested in hearing the witnesses’ views on the CARES Act and its implementation. We would also welcome perspectives on priorities for future legislative or administrative action, including the proposals being negotiated on a bipartisan basis as we speak.
Commercial fishermen have been hurt by this pandemic because many Americans eat seafood in restaurants only. In order to provide direct relief to the restaurant industry, I have introduced S. 4012, the RESTAURANTS Act of 2020. We need to support our restaurants and seafood sector during this crisis, but we also need to focus on creating a more resilient seafood industry. I am pleased to observe that we continue to gain cosponsors for S. 4012.
In May, President Trump issued an Executive Order on “Promoting American Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth.” As the Executive Order outlines, there is great opportunity for the United States to promote sustainable American seafood.
America needs to invest in the expansion of domestic aquaculture. The United States has the largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, and yet we have only a single aquaculture facility in federal waters. I applaud the Administration’s efforts to develop a plan to expand sustainable aquaculture. When done in a safe and well-monitored manner, domestic farming of fish and seafood can complement traditional fishing and ensure healthy, safe, and affordable protein in American diets.
Soon, I intend to reintroduce the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture Act – or AQUAA Act. This will be done on a bipartisan basis. This bill would create a set of national standards for sustainable aquaculture, similar to the standards set by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The United States has the best managed fisheries in the world. We should lead the world in aquaculture management also.
Today’s hearing provides an opportunity to begin the discussion on how Congress can assist in promoting a strong, competitive seafood sector.
So, I thank the witnesses for being participating today either in person or remotely.
And I now turn to my dear friend and Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Opening Statement at the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Hearing titled “Building a Stronger and More Resilient Seafood Sector”
Witnesses: Ms. Leann Bosarge, Council Member, Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
Ms. Cora Campbell, Council Member, North Pacific Fishery Management Council
Dr. Paul Doremus, Deputy Assistant Administrator of Operations, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Mr. Phil Anderson, Chair, Pacific Fishery Management Council
July 29, 2020
CANTWELL: Thank you Mr. Chairman and thanks for holding this important hearing. I’m reminded as I was listening to your comments of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, maybe even testifying in this room, I can’t remember but he said “I’m the Secretary of Commerce and all the issues that Commerce oversees. But I guarantee you, if a member of Congress is calling me, it’s about fish.” And I think that that says the important nature to the state of Mississippi, the state of Washington, I’m sure to the state of Alaska, I saw the Senator from Alaska here, and to many of our other colleagues. These are important economic and sustainability questions, so thank you for holding this important hearing and particularly with the severe impact of COVID-19 on the seafood industry because it has had serious economic consequences, and I want to thank the witnesses for participating, especially Phil Anderson, who is taking a day off from running his charter boat out of Westport, Washington to be with us.
Phil, I’m sure you would rather be reeling in a coho, or spotting albatross or many other things but I really appreciate you being here and really appreciate you being here so early.
The seafood sector is the cornerstone of our 30 billion dollar maritime economy in our state of Washington. Fisheries and fishery related businesses, such as commercial fishing, seafood processing, shipbuilding, gear manufacturing, make up 60 percent of our state’s maritime economy, which as a whole supports over 146,000 jobs. In addition to commercial fisheries, the Tribal fisheries support subsistence and immeasurable cultural and ceremonial value and recreational fisheries too support our economy adding $340 million to our state’s GDP. So yes, these are big economic issues for the state of Washington.
The COVID pandemic has resulted in hardship on these communities and industries and as of July of this year, I heard from Tribes, shellfish growers, fishing businesses, all who suffered from the severe impacts and declines in exports. The COVID pandemic unfolded in many devastating ways. To the restaurant industry. It gutted the market for fresh seafood virtually overnight, and the seafood and restaurant industries are inextricably linked to the nearly three quarters of all U.S. seafood that is consumed in restaurants.
The west coast fisheries have already seen a decrease of $21 million in revenue, a 40 percent decline compared to the previous five-year average. In January alone, Washington Dungeness crab fishery saw a 37 percent decline in revenue from the previous year. Overall, it is estimated U.S. seafood sales have dropped 95 percent this year. So despite this staggering economic data, many fishermen have not been able to access the COVID relief funding from the paycheck protection program, the Main Street Lending Program, or even qualify for unemployment based on the nature of their businesses and tax structures.
USDA food purchase programs have not been able to provide the support for most seafood products, and some USDA programs, including the Famers to Families Box Program, specifically block wild caught seafood from eligibility to the program, another blow to the industry.
So that is why I fought so hard to secure $300 million dollars for the seafood sector in the form of grants and other assistance in the CARES Act to address the loophole. Unfortunately, the industry has yet to see a single dollar of relief due to a slow and inefficient and cumbersome implementation through NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
The Chairman and I, and I applaud the Chairman on this, have held several hearings and offered legislation to streamline the fishery disaster process, and our bill is currently pending before the Senate. While this bill was written before COVID, it is clear even now, Chairman, that this is an important aspect of what we need to be doing. In addition to direct financial impacts on the industry, COVID-19 has also affected the fisheries research and management system that we rely upon to maintain our status as a world leader in sustainable fisheries. NOAA has issued waivers for observers and monitors of commercial fisheries, and cancelled stock assessment surveys that supply crucial data. I’m going to talk about this later, but stock assessments are the bedrock for our fisheries management system. We need stock assessments to continue.
Today, I want to hear from our witnesses about how disruptions to stock assessments will impact fisheries management in the future.
In closing Mr. Chairman, I would be remiss if I did not mention my opposition and disappointment in the administration’s actions in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Instead of focusing on getting recovery dollars out the door to protect the seafood sector, the administration is paving the way towards permitting the Pebble Mine. Salmon habitat and mining do not mix. This mine will kill salmon, and thousands of American jobs which depend on them if any accident were to occur. When the late Ted Stevens was quoted, he said this is the “wrong mine, in the wrong place.” I doubt that he could imagine this becoming an even more pressing issue than it is today.
It is beyond unconscionable that the Administration continues to threaten the largest salmon fishery in the world instead of focusing on the catastrophic failure that we are seeing because of the pandemic. This is like a one, two gut punch to the industry. By failing to engage in this process in a formal manner, NOAA has abdicated its responsibility to salmon management. NOAA has turned its back on 14,000 jobs and a $1.5 billion dollar sockeye salmon sector that is the largest in the world. So as I have said many times, we must let science lead, and the administration is not listening to science and NOAA is not sticking up for the science. This is an important public health issue, and it’s important to protect these fisheries. I don’t know what has happened with NOAA losing sight of this mission, but I guarantee you that the coastal communities that I represent, the fisherman that I represent, the jobs that they represent, the sockeye salmon industry are very disappointed and we deserve better.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Witness Panel 1
Ms. Leann BosargeCouncil MemberGulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
Ms. Cora CampbellCouncil MemberNorth Pacific Fishery Management Council
Dr. Paul DoremusDeputy Assistant Administrator of OperationsNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Mr. Philip AndersonChairPacific Fishery Management Council