US Commerce secretary nominee Gina Raimondo discusses fishing industry concerns at Senate confirmation hearing

Testifying on Tuesday, 26 January, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo pledged to use science and data to help move the seafood industry forward if she becomes the country's next secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

With senators from several major fishing states represented on the panel, Raimondo got plenty of time to discuss her views on the commercial fishing industry during the hearing, which lasted over two-and-a-half hours. She noted seafood is a key industry in her home state of Rhode Island.

“We have over 4,000 people who make a living commercial fishing, and they have for generations,” Raimondo said in response to a question from U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

“They did. Their father did. Their grandfather did. And I understand how important that part of the economy is in your state, and you have my strong commitment to work closely with you on making sure that the surveys and the stock assessments, etcetera, are fact-based, science-based,” Raimondo said. 

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the ranking minority member on the committee, urged Raimondo to work with her on fisheries management solutions to bolster habitats for salmon and other species.

If confirmed, Raimondo will have authority over NOAA Fisheries, the agency that oversees fisheries management and other agencies that make decisions regarding the use of federal waters. That includes the development of offshore wind farms, and the management of marine sanctuaries.

The fisheries management piece also involves several key stakeholders. Besides commercial and recreational fishermen, there has been a recent groundswell of support in Congress for expanding aquaculture developments in federal waters.

Raimondo told U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) – a co-sponsor of the AQUAA Act, an aquaculture development bill – that Rhode Island has used aquaculture to build a successful oyster industry in her state. While she noted there are environmental concerns about finfish farms, she said she would work with him and other supporters on the issue.

A vote to confirm Raimondo has not been scheduled, but Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) alluded a couple of times during the hearing that that is almost assured.

“I believe Governor Raimondo, as governor of a maritime state, understands the need for effective oceans and fisheries policies,” Wicker said. “I hope she will be a strong advocate on these issues as Secretary of Commerce.”

Raimondo told Wicker she looked forward to working with him and other members to find “bold and creative” solutions to help fishermen and the hospitality industry that has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.

Last year, Congress passed two COVID-19 relief bills that allocated a combined USD 600 million (EUR 495.4 million) in direct financial support for fishermen. Raimondo told the committee that she would make distributing that funding a priority if she’s confirmed.

“The fishermen are struggling like so many others right now, and we need to do our best to get the money out the door quickly and effectively and transparently,” she said.  

Photo courtesy of Anthony Ricci/Shutterstock


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