Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts senators push Trump for aid for their states' seafood industries

Four U.S. senators representing the Chesapeake Bay region wrote a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday, 1 July, urging him to invest COVID-19 funding to the area’s shellfish farmers whose businesses have been greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter, written by Virginia’s U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Maryland’s U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, all Democrats, asks Perdue to use some of the USD 16 billion (EUR 14.2 billion) appropriated through the CARES Act to purchase oysters and clams from Chesapeake-based aquaculture businesses.

The senators said nearly 70 percent seafood consumed in the U.S. is eaten at restaurants and other hospitality businesses. Because the pandemic has closed restaurants and forced others to offer limited dining service, such as outdoor seating or take-out and delivery only, 84 percent of aquaculture businesses have seen sales declines.

In addition, the senators added that nearly two-thirds of aquaculture businesses expected to close their operations by the end of June unless they received more assistance.

“Restrictions on restaurant operations are especially damaging to Chesapeake Bay oyster farmers, many of whom are small, family-owned businesses,” the senators wrote. “As most sales and harvests of shellfish products occur in the spring, the inability to offload products have impacted shellfish growers’ ability to prepare operations for the next production season.”

The lawmakers want the Department of Agriculture to create a short-term buying program under its Section 32 authority and purchase shelf-stable oyster and clam products to provide to the public. Doing so would help a USD 4.6 billion (EUR 4.1 billion) industry that employs more than 30,000 people.

The letter to Perdue is the latest one the foursome has sent to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. Six weeks ago, they, along with U.S. Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Virginia) sent a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf regarding H-2B visas for the states’ seafood industries.

In a separate letter, U.S. Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and U.S. Representatives Seth Moulton and William Keating, all Democrats representing Massachusetts, asked the Trump administration to fairly distribute any lobster tariff assistance among affected states “to fairly include the Massachusetts lobster industry in any discussions or distribution of trade relief assistance provided to the lobster industry and seafood producers in response to China’s retaliatory tariffs.”

On 25 June, in response to a meeting with representatives of Maine’s lobster industry, Trump signed a new order that includes potential monetary assistance to U.S. lobster fishermen and processors.

“We urge you to include Massachusetts lobstermen in your efforts to assess how and whether that aid will be distributed,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “This relief could help many small business owners withstand the ongoing economic crisis and preserve a key part of New England’s cultural identity.”

Massachusetts, which the second-largest lobster industry of any U.S. state, shas seen sales of its lobsters drop dramatically due to the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus, as well as the imposition of tariffs by China as part of the Sino-U.S. trade war, and in response to the beginning of the Canadian-European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which provides tariff-free access for Canadian lobster products sold in the E.U.

Photo courtesy of JoMo333/Shutterstock


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