Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden recently led colleagues in a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture urging the USDA to continue purchasing seafood from the West Coast. Merkley and Wyden were joined by senators Alex Padilla (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Patty Murray (D-WA), and Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) in pushing USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack to make sure West Coast fishermen and seafood processors remain supported and a priority for USDA commodity purchasing programs.
“On average, commercial fishermen on the West Coast deliver more than $500 million in ex-vessel value per annum, accounting for 13 percent of the value of total U.S. seafood production,” wrote the lawmakers. “A quarter of all American seafood processing and wholesale jobs are located in Washington, Oregon and California, representing the largest employment opportunity among all seafood-producing regions in the U.S. The domestic seafood sector is also a critically important component of America’s food production system, supporting more than 1.2 million jobs, generating more than $144 billion in sales impacts, and contributing more than $61 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product.
“As with rural economies everywhere, but perhaps most acutely in small coastal communities, COVID-19 had a devastating impact, and a primary driver of that impact was the effect on the fishing and processing industry,” they continued. “According to a report issued by NOAA Fisheries in December 2021, ex-vessel revenue fell by 27 percent from 2019 to 2020, and seafood dealers and processors sustained a decline in value added of $598 million (or 13.47 percent) as well. The West Coast saw a larger decline in revenue from commercial fishing landings than all regions as a whole, with a dip of 24 percent in 2020, as compared to a five-year baseline (2015-2019). NOAA found that a significant part of the lost value was due to restaurant closures and reduced export.”
Merkley and Wyden have been long-time advocates leading the push to ensure the USDA includes Pacific Northwest fishermen and seafood processors in important purchasing programs. Most recently, the senators secured $16.5 million in Pacific seafood purchases.