Executive Order seeks to stabilize prices for American fishermen

By Jasz Garrett

Salmon freshly caught in the summer of 2023 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett)

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – Russia has been importing seafood into the United States by having it reprocessed in China, despite there being a prohibition in place since 2022. At the same time, Russia has had a decade-long ban on nearly all American-produced seafood products.

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on Friday announced the new determination by the U.S. Treasury Department that prohibits Russian seafood imports to the U.S., including salmon, pollock, cod, and crab products harvested in waters under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation or by Russian-flagged vessels, even if they’ve been reprocessed and substantially transformed in another country.

This decision follows Sen. Sullivan’s two-year campaign advocating for the Treasury Department to expand the current prohibition through dozens of conversations with senior Biden administration officials and his congressional colleagues, and through legislation he’s authored and championed in the Senate.

During a press conference Friday, Sen. Sullivan said this has been the most challenging time for Alaskan fishermen in decades and he believes the ban will be a step towards stabilizing prices for the species included.

“It just makes it harder to compete. And let me just give you one statistic,” he said. “As of last year, the value of Russian seafood imports in the United States has grown 173%. Since their embargo was in place, since 2013. And we couldn’t increase our exports at all.”

Trident Seafoods, the largest seafood company in the U.S., announced on Dec. 12 its plans to seek potential buyers for four of its Alaska shoreside plants as part of a restructuring initiative. This includes plans to seek buyers for its operations in Kodiak, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and False Pass, and a 10% reduction in headcount.

Sen. Sullivan recognized Trident’s Dec. 12 decision was influenced by declining demand, excess supply, and foreign competition.

“It’s been a really rough time for our fishing communities, fisheries…There’s no doubt that this has been caused in large part by Russia, flooding global markets with pollock, with cod, with salmon,” he said. “And they do use some of this money, the oligarchs, to help fund the Putin war machine. So, is this going to solve all that? No, it won’t solve all of it, but it could certainly help firm up prices in the United States.”

Sen. Sullivan said while it’s too early to tell, he believes the Executive Order will address issues that are causing challenges for all Alaskan fishermen and industries.

Trident, along with other Alaskan industrial leaders, did welcome Friday’s decision in Sen. Sullivan’s press release.

“This is an enormous win for the nation’s effort to impose meaningful economic sanctions on Russia. Consumers throughout the United States have been unknowingly purchasing Russian-harvested seafood and indirectly supporting Russia’s war on Ukraine. That’s simply wrong,” CEO of Trident Seafoods, Joe Bundrant, said in a press release. “We are grateful for the time and effort the administration, Senator Sullivan and other congressional offices have put into strengthening these sanctions and assuring U.S. consumers that their seafood purchases are not fueling the Russian war.”

Sen. Sullivan said abusive and environmentally harmful practices are common in the seafood industry in Russia and China, while the U.S. is a global leader in responsibly managed fisheries and sustainable seafood.

“This issue of Russian fish flooding global markets, supply chains that are driven by, you know, very low environmental and low labor standards,” he said. “And I think that makes it harder for American fisheries to compete when our competitors rely on slave labor.”

Sen. Sullivan was asked if Russia could find other “loopholes”, and how the products will be tracked efficiently to enforce the ban.

He said while it won’t be easy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can track products through industry outreach and looking at other examples of traced supply chains. The CBP will enforce the ban at ports of entry and the Coast Guard will continue enforcement of domestic fishery laws and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Sen. Sullivan added that American importers will be largely responsible for knowing their supply chain, and he trusts the Executive Order puts incentives in place for people to work together.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) also commended the ban.

“In the midst of a truly difficult time for Alaska’s fishermen, these are stabilizing steps that will help end Russia’s evasion of sanctions and China’s dumping of overharvested Russian fish onto American markets,” Sen. Murkowski said. “That, in turn, will help seafood prices recover, restore balance and basic fairness to markets, and cut off a key source of funding for Putin’s catastrophic war in Ukraine, all at the same time.”

“Thank you to our Alaskan fishermen, the Alaska delegation, and countless Alaskans who have worked tirelessly to educate the Administration on this issue,” Rep. Peltola said. “I cannot stress enough the importance of safeguarding our North Pacific Ocean and ensuring the economic well-being of Alaskan fishermen. We must not turn a blind eye to the alarming threat that unregulated foreign trawlers pose to our local fishermen and marine ecosystems.”

Starting Friday, a 60-day timeframe was given for current fishing contracts. The 60-day period does not allow for companies to undertake more contracts—they must already be signed. The order will take effect on Feb. 21. The European Union (EU) did a similar ban expanding Russian sanctions earlier this week.