USDA to purchase USD 119.5 million worth of Alaskan sockeye and groundfish
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) intends to purchase USD 119.5 million (EUR 109 million) worth of Alaskan sockeye salmon and Pacific groundfish for federal food assistance programs, according to Alaska’s congressional delegation.
“USDA’s purchase of Alaska seafood is great news for our fishing industry and all who depend on federal food assistance,” U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said in a statement. “Alaskan fishermen stand ready to help feed their communities, and these purchases provide them the perfect opportunity to bring healthy Alaskan seafood to the tables of families who need it most.”
The seafood will be purchased through USDA’s Section 32 program, which supports domestic producers by buying surplus food products for low-income food assistance initiatives.
Of the total, USD 67.5 million (EUR 61.5 million) will go toward Alaska sockeye salmon products, with up to USD 37.5 million (EUR 34.2 million) for canned salmon and up to USD 30 million (EUR 27.3 million) for frozen sockeye filet portions.
Last year, Bristol Bay, Alaska, U.S.A. set an all-time record, with a reported run of more than 76 million a catch of more than 60 million sockeye. With another massive run expected in 2023, processors, distributers, retailers are running promotions to help wind down their inventories.
In September 2022, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) sent a request to USDA, asking the agency to buy 5 million pounds of frozen sockeye fillets, 700,000 cases of canned sockeye products, and 50 million pounds of Alaska pollock products for the Section 32 program. Such a massive purchase would help address the unusually high inventory of sockeye as the industry prepares for 2023, it said.
After not hearing back from the agency, Alaska’s congressional delegation sent a letter to the USDA in March 2023 to push forward ASMI’s request and implore USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to take action.
“The hardworking men and women of the Alaska pollock and salmon sectors are ready and able to supply large volumes of protein to meet the needs of millions of food insecure individuals. At the same time, coastal communities in Alaska and thousands of Alaskan small businesses and their associated fishing families will benefit,” the delegation wrote in the letter.
A separate letter from U.S. West Coast trade groups and legislators suggested that additional USDA purchases were needed to offset the impact of the war in Ukraine on seafood exports.
Now, the legislators have confirmed that USDA will be purchasing USD 119.5 million worth of sockeye and pollock from Alaska producers for the program.
“Food insecurity affects nearly a quarter of Americans," U.S. Representative Mary Peltola (D-AK) said. "We need to respond with every tool at our disposal. These purchases of high-quality Alaskan seafood, including sockeye salmon, will provide essential nutrition while also supporting our world-class fisheries.”
ASMI celebrated the news in an email sent to its members.
"At the close of the 2022 sockeye salmon harvest, one of the largest returns in history, the Alaska sockeye sector requested ASMI’s help moving the significant inventory of sockeye salmon," it said. " Bruce Schactler, ASMI’s global food Aad program director, worked closely with USDA, industry and the Alaska delegation in Washington, D.C., throughout the process, which relies on economic review of the sector to gauge need. ASMI Executive Director Jeremy Woodrow and senior staff met with USDA Under-Secretary Moffitt while in Vietnam during an Alaska Seafood trade mission in February 2023. Alaska’s [congressional] delegation ... were instrumental in supporting the requests and securing approval from the Secretary of Agriculture, the arbiter of the program. ASMI and the Alaska seafood harvesters, processors and industry appreciate the USDA’s partnership to sustain the Alaska seafood industry, and encourage USDA to continue to expand access to high-quality, health-promoting, sustainable wild Alaska Seafood for its program participants."
In March 2023, the USDA purchased USD 4.5 million (EUR 4.1 million) worth of canned salmon products from across the United States, with OBI Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods, and Trident Seafoods picking up contracts. That same month the agency purchased USD 29 million (EUR 26.8 million) worth of frozen groundfish fillets from Blue Harvest Foods, Channel Fish Processing, and the Pier Fish Company. At the beginning of the year, the USDA purchased more than USD 8 million (EUR 7.4 million) in salmon products from OBI Seafoods and Silver Bay Seafoods.
The USDA has agreed to purchase salmon products in the past to help the industry deal with surpluses or hardships.
In response to the economic challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2021, the USDA announced its intention to complete its largest single seafood purchase ever. As part of a nearly USD 160 million (EUR 146 million) solicitation, the government announced plans to buy USD 20 million (EUR 18.3 million) worth of Alaska pollock, USD 25 million (EUR 22.8 million) worth of wild-caught shrimp, USD 4 million (EUR 3.7 million) worth of Pacific pink shrimp, USD 4 million (EUR 3.7 million) worth of Pacific rockfish fillets, USD 9 million (8.2 million) worth of Pacific whiting fillets, and USD 8.9 million (EUR 8.1 million) worth of sockeye salmon.
“U.S. fisheries and the American seafood industry were dealt a heavy blow,” Vilsack said at the time. “Today, USDA is pleased to make the largest single seafood purchase in the Department’s history. These healthy, nutritious food purchases will benefit food banks and non-profits helping those struggling with food hardship as the Biden Administration works to get the economy back on track for American families.”
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