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Richard and Annie Nehmer, owners of the fishing vessel Resolution in Crescent City, pose for a photo with their children Alana and Connor and their crew, Chris Hooper, left, and Blake Mihelich.

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Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is leading a group of nine lawmakers — including U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Patty Murray (D-WA), and Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), Jared Huffman (D-CA-2), and Derek Kilmer (D-WA-6) — in pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to make sure urgently needed federal assistance is delivered to West Coast fishermen and seafood processors, who have been hit hard by the ongoing coronavirus crisis and largely left out of USDA commodity purchasing programs.

“As you know, the ongoing public health crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an economic disaster throughout the U.S. economy. These economic disruptions have been particularly acute for the seafood industry. Notably, more than 68% of the $102.2 billion that consumers paid for U.S. fishery products in 2017 was spent at food service establishments. The sudden and near-total loss of that market in March 2020 decimated virtually overnight the demand for U.S.-sourced seafood products, and the accompanying disruption in export markets and global supply chains has placed additional strain on domestic seafood infrastructure. Even as COVID-19 vaccines have started to be administered, significant economic impacts to the seafood sector continue,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

“During these unprecedented times, USDA’s procurement programs are critical to filling an incredibly important void – one that ensures that food production essential workers stay employed, supply chains keep operating, and America’s nutritional needs are met. We appreciate USDA’s efforts to date to expand its long-standing purchasing programs to include seafood products from various U.S. regions. However, thus far, few of the procurements have focused on the purchasing of seafood products from the West Coast,” the lawmakers continued. “We thus request that USDA include as part of its commodity purchasing programs the purchase of Pacific Northwest and West Coast seafood products that are currently being produced in large volumes, easily accessible, and easily transportable for immediate distribution to food assistance programs.”

The letter follows a previous, bipartisan effort that Merkley helped lead in 2020 to urge the USDA to include seafood products in its commodity purchasing programs.

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