Anchorage Daily News: Alaska delegation presses to close ‘loophole’ that allows seafood imports from Russia

WASHINGTON — Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan attempted to fast-track a bill to stop U.S. seafood imports from Russia that are being funneled through China, but was blocked Thursday on the Senate floor.

Sullivan and the Alaska delegation proposed the U.S.-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act of 2023 to stop allowing the U.S. to import Russian-origin seafood that has been processed in China. The delegation argues that permitting such imports undercuts the efficacy of sanctions on Russia during its war in Ukraine. There’s also an issue of fairness — Russia banned importing U.S. seafood products in 2014 as the U.S. imposed sanctions during Russia’s invasion of Crimea.

Sullivan said in a speech on the Senate floor that the imports are a “giant loophole. It’s happening every day. It’s an outrage.”

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration announced a Russian seafood import ban in 2022, after years of prompting from the Alaska congressional delegation. However, the U.S. has continued to import seafood originating in Russia through China.

About a third of wild-caught fish imported from China has been estimated to come from Russia, with higher rates for pollock and sockeye salmon, according to a 2021 United States International Trade Commission report. In 2021, China sent $1.7 billion in fish to the U.S.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola joined Sullivan in introducing the bill last week.

“It’s well past time we ensure America’s seafood economy is safeguarded against unfair trade practices,” Murkowski said in a statement. “This legislation will help correct this trade imbalance and bring parity to Alaska’s world-class seafood industry.”

“We need to stand up for ocean health and our American fishermen, and make sure that Americans are not unknowingly buying seafood from Russian vessels that have little oversight or regulation,” Peltola said in a statement.

Environmentalists have also long raised concerns about importing Russian seafood given the nation’s poor sustainability track record. And in May, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang called on the Marine Stewardship Council to rescind certifying Russian seafood harvests as sustainable.

On Thursday, Sullivan attempted to pass the bill by seeking unanimous consent and bypassing consideration in the Senate Finance Committee. Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat, objected. Markey previously objected to another Sullivan-led attempt to ban Russian seafood imports in 2022.

Markey said his team needed more time to review the bill and review its “workability for New England” — his state has a significant seafood industry. Markey also raised concerns about U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s capacity to track foreign seafood’s origin and highlighted worries from Massachusetts companies that rely on foreign imports for their supply.

“While Customs and Border Protection attempts this difficult enforcement task, processors could see major disruption,” Markey said on the Senate floor. “Workers could lose their jobs. Consumer good costs for Americans could rise significantly.”

While the future of the bill is unclear, Sullivan said in a brief interview after the vote that he spoke with Markey and plans to “work closely” with his team to negotiate the bill. During his floor speech, Sullivan also called on the Treasury and Homeland Security departments to help with the effort. He said he has gotten assurances from Biden administration officials, but said “it’s been a year and we’re still waiting.”

“The Russian war machine benefits from this. The Chinese, of course, benefit from this,” Sullivan said as he debated Markey on the Senate floor. “And American fishermen are getting screwed. Why isn’t our government helping?”

By:  Riley Rogerson
Source: Anchorage Daily News