USDA proffers USD 530 million to seafood industry via Seafood Trade Relief Program

Published on
September 10, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Wednesday, 9 September, it will provide approximately USD 530 million (EUR 445.6 million) to seafood harvesters in the United States to compensate them for losses caused by retaliatory tariffs.

Up to USD 250,000 (EUR 209,967) will be made available to individual fishermen or businesses whose primary function is harvesting seafood and who have been harmed by tariffs imposed by foreign nations. The funding will be disbursed through the Seafood Trade Relief Program funding via the Commodity Credit Corporation, administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Eligible individuals or companies can apply for relief from 14 September to 14 December through their local USDA Service Center. The application can be found here.

“Many nations have not played by the rules for a long time, and President Trump is the first president to stand up to them and send a clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate unfair trade practices,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a press release. “The Seafood Trade Relief Program ensures fishermen and other U.S. producers will not stand alone in facing unjustified retaliatory tariffs while President Trump continues working to solidify better and stronger trade deals around the globe.”

According to the Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) website, the program is “part of a relief strategy to support fishermen and other producers while the administration continues to work on free, fair, and reciprocal trade deals to open more markets to help American farmers compete globally.”

The STRP prohibits a person or legal entity from receiving more than USD 250,000 from the program, and  an applicant’s average adjusted gross income cannot exceed USD 900,000 (EUR 756.5 million) “unless at least 75 percent of the AGI of the person or entity comes from farming, ranching, forestry, seafood harvesting, or related activities.”

The program lists the following species as eligible for compensation on a per-pound basis: atka mackerel (USD 0.10 , EUR 0.08); Dungeness crab (USD 0.47, EUR 0.39); king crab (USD 0.47, EUR 0.39); snow crab (USD 0.47, EUR 0.39); southern tanner crab (USD 0.47, EUR 0.39); flounder (USD 0.15, EUR 0.12);  geoduck (USD 0.76, EUR 0.63); goosefish (USD 0.10, EUR 0.08); herring (USD 0.04, EUR 0.03); lobster (USD 0.50, EUR 0.41);  Pacific cod (USD 0.14, EUR 0.11); Pacific Ocean perch (USD 0.10, EUR 0.08); pollock (USD 0.01, EUR 0.008); sablefish (USD 0.10, EUR 0.08); salmon (USD 0.16, EUR 0.13); sole (USD 0.15, EUR 0.12); squid (USD 0.20, EUR 0.16); tuna (USD 0.13, EUR 0.10); and turbot (USD 0.15, EUR 0.12).

The issued payment rates “reflect the estimated severity of the impact of trade disruptions to U.S. seafood caught and sold commercially, and the adjustment to new trade patterns for the types of seafood products,” according to the USDA announcement. The department said it will provide more information on the calculations in a Notice of Funds Availability statement to be published 14 September, 2020.

John Connelly, the president of the National Fisheries Institute, the largest trade body representing the U.S. seafood industry, said the remuneration “illustrates the Trump administration’s ongoing focus on this important sector.”

“The Seafood Trade Relief Program is a welcome effort that will help an important part of America’s commercial seafood industry, while reminding us all of the importance of a fully functioning value chain,” Connelly said in a statement.

However, Connelly said the program, as structured, omits from eligibility an important part of the seafood industry – processors and distributors.

“Seafood starts in the oceans and making sure those Americans who work the water are supported is vital,” Connelly said. “It remains essential that the administration and Congress understand the complexities of seafood. To get product from water to table all parts need to be considered. Without help for the processors and distributors in the middle of the supply chain, fishermen’s catch will simply sit on the dock of the bay.”

Annie Tselikis, the executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association, said her organization was “extremely disappointed” in being left out of the program.

“While the intent of STRP is to mitigate the impact of retaliatory tariffs from foreign governments on U.S. producers, it completely neglects to address that in the lobster industry, this pain has been felt by live lobster wholesalers and lobster processors, not by commercial lobster fishermen. While we do appreciate recognition of the seafood industry at a time when we are facing many challenges domestically and internationally, we believe that USDA has failed the U.S. lobster industry by not allocating funds to the supply chain via STRP,” Tselikis wrote. “Adding insult to injury, the method by which commercial lobster fishermen will qualify for payment will be based on trade losses determined from actual 2017 export values to China compared to projected 2020 exports to China. Indeed, commercial fishermen will qualify based on a decline in exports – the act of exporting is not work that is done by fishermen, this work is conducted by businesses in the supply chain. Commercial fishermen are experts at harvesting the product, but in the lobster industry, there is an entire supply chain in Maine comprised of 6,000 people who dedicate their lives to the work to get product to market. These supply chain businesses are the ones who have suffered because of the retaliatory tariffs from the People’s Republic of China. It is the live lobster wholesalers and processors whose work it is to add value the product by grading, processing, packing product for export, or transporting it. It is the lobster supply chain businesses who have been forced to eat the cost of the retaliatory tariffs, not the fishing sector, which saw record high ex-vessel prices paid per pound in 2019.”

Tselikis, who recently called the Trump administration’s completion of a deal that will see the European Union lift its tariffs against U.S. lobster a “significant achievement,” said her organization will continue to push for fair treatment of the entire lobster supply chain.

“We will continue to advocate that USDA recognize the value of the lobster companies and the negative impact of the retaliatory tariffs stemming from the U.S.-China Trade War have had on their operations for over two years,” she wrote.

Photo courtesy of David A. Litman/Shutterstock

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