Trump issues executive order promoting US seafood; Stimulus funding released

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has issued a new executive order intended to enhance the competitiveness of the seafood industry.

Additionally, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce has announced state-by-state amounts for allocation of the USD 300 million (EUR 277 million) in fisheries assistance funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).

The U.S. states of Alaska and Washington have each received allocations of USD 50 million (EUR 46 million), Massachusetts has received just over USD 28 million (EUR 25.8 million), Florida will receive USD 23.6 million (EUR 21.7 million), and Maine will get USD 20.3 million (EUR 18.7 million).

California is lined up to receive USD 18.4 million (EUR 16.9 million), Oregon is slated to get almost USD 16 million (EUR 14.7 million), Louisiana will get USD 14.8 million (EUR 13.6 million), and New Jersey will receive USD 11.4 million (EUR 10.5 million).

Texas will get USD 9.2 million (EUR 8.4 million), New York will get around USD 6.8 million (EUR 6.2 million), North Carolina will get USD 5.5 million (EUR 5.07 million), and federally recognized tribes on the U.S. West Coast will receive USD 5.1 million (EUR 4.7 million). Virginia, Hawaii, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, American Samoa, Georgia, Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, Delaware, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Island, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and federally recognized tribes in Alaska will receive amounts ranging from USD 1 million (EUR 923,299) to USD 4.5 million (EUR 4.15 million) each.

A full breakdown of the allocations was published by National Fisherman on Thursday, 7 May.

“We are happy to see NOAA disbursing these funds and it’s important that they reach all aspects of the value chain, including processors and distributors, because they are an important link between water and table and they are hurting right now,” National Fisheries Institute Vice President of Communications Gavin Gibbons told SeafoodSource. “USD 300 million is but a fraction of the original stimulus package so we would be interested in seeing more directed at this vital part of the food supply chain. The losses will be in the billions. USD 300 million is not going to make everyone whole. But we are happy to see money finally flowing to the seafood value chain. So it’s a start.”

Executive order boosts domestic aquaculture

The executive order contains a number of new recommendations for the country’s regional fisheries management councils, as well as a number of new mandates. Among them is an update to the National Aquaculture Development Plan,  the identification of “aquaculture opportunity areas,” new rules to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and the establishment of a new task force in order to create a new seafood trade strategy to improve access to foreign markets.

“America needs a vibrant and competitive seafood industry to create and sustain American jobs, put safe and healthy food on American tables, and contribute to the American economy,” the executive order states. “Despite America’s bountiful aquatic resources, by weight our nation imports over 85 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States. At the same time, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing undermines the sustainability of American and global seafood stocks, negatively affects general ecosystem health, and unfairly competes with the products of law-abiding fishermen and seafood industries around the world.”

The first section contained in the executive order tasks each regional fishery management council in the U.S. to create, within 180 days, a “prioritized list of recommended actions to reduce burdens on domestic fishing and to increase production within sustainable fisheries.” Those actions can include changes to regulations, orders, guidance documents, or other “similar agency actions.” Any actions must also remain consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Endangered Species Act, and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The list of recommendations will be given to the Secretary of Commerce, which will “update the Department of Commerce’s contribution to the Unified Regulatory Agenda based on an evaluation of the lists received.” The Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality will then create a report evaluating the recommendations, and describe actions taken to meet the recommendations.

The order also tasks the Secretary of Commerce, through the administrator of NOAA, to create rulemaking further implementing the FAO’s Port State Measures. That can include encouraging public-private partnerships to promote interagency, intergovernmental, and international cooperation “in order to improve global maritime domain awareness, cooperation concerning at-sea transshipment activities, and the effectiveness of fisheries law enforcement.” The mandate also includes training and assistance for strengthening sustainable fisheries management, and enhancements for enforcement to combat IUU.

Aquaculture also gets significant new changes, with four sections – one devoted to removing barriers to permitting, a section devoted to improving “regulator transparency for aquaculture,” one to establishing “Aquaculture Opportunity Areas,” and an update to the National Aquaculture Development Plan.

On the regulatory side, the order tasks aquaculture permitting decisions to come under the “One Federal Decision” process enhancement established by executive order in 2017. That will require agencies preparing environmental impact statements (EIS) on aquaculture projects make decisions within two years from the start of the intent to create an EIS, and designates that all agencies participating in the project will follow a “lead agency” and cooperate “in a timely manner.” It also designates NOAA as the lead agency for aquaculture projects located outside of the waters of any state or territory within the exclusive economic zone of the U.S.

The mandate also calls for, within 90 days, a proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “nationwide permit authorizing finfish aquaculture activities in marine and coastal waters out to the limit of the territorial sea, and in ocean waters beyond the territorial sea within the exclusive economic zone of the United States.”

Along the regulatory tract, another section of the order “Improving Regulatory Transparency for Aquaculture,” which calls for, within 240 days, a single guidance document that describes federal regulatory requirements for aquaculture permitting and operations, and identifies grant programs applicable to “aquaculture citing, research, development, and operations.”

The order also calls for an update to the National Aquaculture Development Plan, in order to “strengthen our nation’s domestic aquaculture production and improve the efficiency and predictability of aquaculture permitting.”

The final section devoted to aquaculture calls for the creation of “Aquaculture Opportunity Areas.” Within one year of the order, the Secretary of Commerce “in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, other appropriate Federal officials, and appropriate Regional Fishery Management Councils,” along with state management, are tasked with identifying “at least two” geographic areas that could be suitable for commercial aquaculture.

Within two years of identifying those areas, the relevant agencies are tasked with completing EIS for the areas. Then, in the following 4 years, the relevant agencies are tasked with identifying two more suitable spaces for aquaculture, including relevant information such as suitable gear and regulatory requirements.

Finally, the order calls for the establishment of a new task force that will, within 30 days, create a new Interagency Seafood Trade Task Force that will promote American seafood internationally, creating an “interagency seafood trade strategy that identifies opportunities to improve access to foreign markets through trade policy and negotiations, resolves technical barriers to United States seafood exports, and otherwise supports fair market access for United States seafood products.”

Congress asking for additional funding

Members of Congress and commercial fishing groups have been calling for disbursement of the USD 300 million in relief funding since it was allocated on 25 March, more than a month ago. Some had expressed frustration at the long wait time between the initial announcement and the allocation.

Some of those involved in the effort, including U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA),  issued statements after the allocations were announced.

“Thousands of fishermen around the Pacific Northwest are feeling the impacts of restaurant, fishing, and tourism season closures due to COVID-19 and the loss of seafood sales. Due to the unique nature of fishing businesses, many have been left without federal assistance until now,” Cantwell said. “Having USD 50 million coming to Washington state fishermen in grants and other direct assistance will provide much-needed money to fishing businesses to keep them a part of our maritime economy.”

Some members of Congress have also asked for additional funding beyond the USD 300 million, saying that amount is not nearly enough to cover the deep economic pain hitting the seafood industry as a result of the pandemic. More than 200 independent fishermen, seafood businesses, and their advocates also sent a letter on 4 May to members of the Trump administration and key congressional leaders urging them to help the struggling industry, and make them aware of the plight smaller ventures face due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Glass Photography/Shutterstock


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