Last week, U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and nine other West Coast members of Congress wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary urging the department to better support West Coast fishermen and seafood workers.
The letter states that West Coast fishing and seafood industries were greatly weakened following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to decreased exports and restaurant closures.
According to the letter, the "West Coast saw a larger decline in revenue from commercial fishing landings than all regions as a whole, with a dip of 24% in 2020."
The letter's main request is for the Department of Agriculture to include large-volume West Coast seafood products in this year's Section 32 purchase, a federal program that purchases American commodities in surplus and distributes them to food assistance programs.
"In the last two years, (the) USDA has made significant Section 32 purchases of West Coast seafood products, providing a significant boost for the industry and our coastal communities," the letter states. "USDA's procurement programs are critical for ensuring that our food production systems remain robust, essential workers remain employed, supply chains keep operating and America's nutritional needs are met."
The letter said that Section 32 purchases have historically excluded small coastal communities in Washington and the West Coast.
The war in Ukraine has also impacted the fishing and seafood industries in the region. The letter states that Ukraine has "historically been the largest market for Pacific hake (whiting)," noting that the U.S. exported nearly $95 million of edible seafood products to Ukraine in 2021. Since the war, these markets have all but vanished.
The USDA makes Section 32 purchases year-round and has already announced 10 this year.