American businesses are being hit hard by retaliatory tariffs imposed by China on U.S. goods in response to the Trump administration’s trade policies. Commercial fisheries are no exception.
The Purse Seine Vessel Owners’ Association represents the interests of the “small boat” commercial fishing fleet. It represents some 290 vessel owners, about half of whom are based in Washington state with about two dozen from Seattle.
While the association is based in Seattle, which is the home of the North Pacific commercial fishing fleet and several large seafood processing companies, a large majority of members make their living harvesting wild-caught and sustainably managed salmon in Alaska.
Ultimately, what members want to see is a return to fair and open trade practices with our global trade partners, especially China, so that hard working, commercial fishing family-owned businesses can continue to earn a modest living supplying consumers with wild Alaska salmon. China is the largest of Alaska’s seafood export markets.
Achieving the goal of fair and open trade, however, will likely take time, and commercial fishermen will continue to suffer economic harm as a result of Chinese tariffs imposed on Alaska salmon and other U.S. seafood products. Commercial fishermen should not have to bear the brunt of these unfair and retaliatory tariffs. The impacts of this retaliation are severe and worsening as time passes. For example, as the 2019 Alaska salmon season begins in earnest, fishermen are receiving the lowest price for Alaska pink salmon in years, which is a direct result of the trade dispute with China.
The tariffs are impacting a salmon purse seine fleet operating in Alaska’s four major salmon producing regions, which collectively averages about $63 million in annual sales — the amount paid to fishermen for their catch, according to data published by Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.
On May 23 U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue announced the USDA would take several actions to assist farmers in response to trade disruption arising out of the trade dispute. However, seafood producers are not included in the USDA’s economic assistance programs.
In a June 11 letter to Secretary Purdue, the Alaska congressional delegation (U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, and U.S. Rep. Don Young) correctly point out that the USDA’s assistance package for farmers is also needed for Alaskan fishermen. To date, commercial fishermen and seafood producers are not eligible to participate in the USDA’s trade assistance programs.
On June 26, Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton introduced legislation to expand disaster relief to fisheries harmed by tariffs. The Purse Seine Vessel Owner’s Association supports and appreciates these efforts in Congress to include the commercial fishing industry in trade assistance programs that are vital to farmers and commercial fishermen alike.
Economic assistance would work in similar fashion to the help provided to the farm industry where farmers are scheduled to receive direct payments from the Farm Service Agency. This would help fishermen absorb some of the costs of the disrupted markets. In addition, the Department of Agriculture would purchase surplus salmon affected by trade retaliation.
The association supports the goal of open and fair trade. But commercial fishermen should not have to bear the brunt of unfair and retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other U.S. trading partners. The Trump administration and Congress need to include commercial fishermen and seafood producers in trade assistance programs or expand disaster relief to fisheries affected by tariffs.