Intra Fish: US lawmakers want to crack down on 'backdoor' Russian seafood imports

US lawmakers from Alaska are once again looking to ban the importation of all seafood from Russia into the United States by reintroducing the US-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act this month.

Alaska Republican Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation on June 16 that would impose a comprehensive ban on the import of all Russian-origin seafood products into the United States. Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Representatives that is supported by Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola.

Sullivan said the legislation is in response to Russia’s own prohibition on the importation of US and other western seafood products since 2014.

Russia enacted its embargo in response to a suite of sanctions the United States and its allies imposed following Russia’s 2014 invasion of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.

Last year, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order that prohibits the importation of unaltered seafood originating in Russia. However that executive order "fails to block Russian seafood that has been substantially transformed in another country through reprocessing," Sullivan said.

Peltola said foreign trawlers are harming the ocean and "misleading American consumers."

"While they have banned imports of US seafood, they continue to sell their catch, including large amounts of pollock caught by trawling, into our stores,” she said.

“Often, they disguise their product by processing it in and re-exporting from China. 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."

The text of the bills have not yet been published, which makes it difficult to know whether they could have an impact on the loophole, National Fisheries Institute (NFI) spokesperson Gavin Gibbons told IntraFish.

Last year, Sullivan attempted to pass the US-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act by unanimous consent, but the bill was blocked by Senate Democrats.

The issue of the Russia-US trade imbalance has been such a hot-button for Alaska in recent years that in 2020 the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) released a white paper on the topic.

A key point in the paper is Alaska and Russia harvest many of the same species and many Russia-origin products are available in the US market, often at lower prices than comparable Alaska products.

Russia is the primary producer of pollock and supplies over 30 percent of the global Atlantic cod supply and 25 percent of haddock, according to Seafish.

Differentiating between US and Russia-origin pollock has been a primary focus of the the US-based trade groups the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers (GAPP) for decades.

GAPP CEO Craig Morris told IntraFish theorganization has not taken a position on the bill but has long-advocated for US-origin once-frozen Alaska pollock over twice-frozen fish that is largely caught in Russia and re-exported from China as a way to differentiate between the products.

By:  Rachel Sapin
Source: Intra Fish