Processors lament expansion of US ban on Russian-origin seafood

A Russian pollock fishing vessel bringing in its catch.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent expansion of the country’s ban on certain types of Russian-origin seafood has garnered mixed reactions, with domestic seafood producers and Alaskan politicians celebrating the move but importers claiming it will have a negative impact on the U.S. processing industry.

Biden expanded the ban of Russian seafood under U.S. Executive Order 14068 to include seafood harvested in Russian waters, “even if these products are then transformed in a third country.”

Following up on that executive order, the U.S. Treasury Department specified that Russian salmon, cod, pollock, and crab subject to the Seafood Determination are subject to the new restrictions, and any orders for seafood placed after 22 December 2023 would need to be redirected to a different country.

Orders that were already placed before 22 December 2023 will still be allowed to enter the U.S., as long as the shipments are imported into the U.S. before 21 February 2024.  

The expanded ban comes after members of the domestic seafood-processing industry and Alaska’s congressional delegation called for more scrutiny on Russian seafood imports. Trident Seafoods CEO Joe Bundrant issued a call for expanded restrictions in October 2023, while U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced his own legislation to close the U.S. market to Russian seafood processed in a third country.

Both Bundrant and Sullivan welcomed the new ban, calling it a win for both domestic seafood producers and the overall effort to sanction Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“This is an enormous win for the nation’s effort to impose meaningful economic sanctions on Russia," Bundrant said in a statement. "Consumers throughout the United States have been unknowingly purchasing Russian-harvested seafood and indirectly supporting Russia’s war on Ukraine. That’s simply wrong." 

Sullivan called the ban “long overdue” and a “win for Alaskan and American fishermen, for sustainable and environmentally sound fisheries, and for the numerous coastal communities in Alaska that they support.”

“Our advocacy and unyielding determination have finally paid off, delivering a blow to the authoritarian regimes in Russia and China and their fishing industries, which dramatically undermine the health of our oceans and promote human rights abuses,” Sullivan said.

Industry groups and NGOs also applauded the new order, including the Pacific Seafood Processors Association. 

“Members of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association applaud today’s action by the Treasury Department to increase economic sanctions on Russia by closing U.S. markets to Russian seafood,” Pacific Seafood Processors Association President Julie Decker said. “Now, Russian seafood will not be able to enter the U.S. via other countries, fund Russia’s war in Ukraine, unfairly compete with domestic seafood, and depress U.S. seafood markets.”

Sally Yozell, the director of the environmental security program at the Stimson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, also praised the move as a meams of leveling the playing field for U.S. fishers. 

“Too often, Russian-caught seafood is processed in China, comingled with U.S. harvested seafood, and shipped back to the U.S. to be sold to unwitting American consumers. This [executive order] helps level the playing field for American fishers and gives greater certainty to American consumers that the seafood they are buying is not supporting Russia's war in Ukraine,” Yozell said.

Some industry groups, including the National Fisheries Institute, criticized the move as unnecessary and harmful to the U.S. seafood-processing industry. 

“The unintended consequences of this effort will very likely include layoffs right here at home. Let’s be clear, American seafood-processing jobs are now in jeopardy,” the NFI stated. 

The NFI said it supported a separate proposal that would have imposed ... 

Photo courtesy of The Russian Fishery Company

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