The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that it will provide more than half a billion dollars to support the U.S. seafood industry and commercial fishermen impacted by retaliatory tariffs from China and other foreign governments.  

The federal aid is part of the $530 million Seafood Trade Relief Program administered by the USDA's Farm Service Agency. 

Individual fishermen who have been affected over the last two years by retaliatory tariffs on seafood products are eligible for up to $250,000 per person.

The funding will help them absorb sales declines and increased marketing costs associated with retaliatory tariffs, according to the department. 

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said the relief program is the first of its kind because the USDA does not usually provide individual relief. 

He said that 16 of the 19 seafood species covered by the program are harvested in Alaska. 

“This is going to be very important for our industry in providing the relief that I think is a fairness issue,” he said. 

Since early 2018, China has been levying tariffs on certain U.S. food and agricultural products in retaliation against tariffs imposed by the U.S. on imports from China, according to the Congressional Research Service, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

The report said that this has caused a decline in shipments of products burdened by retaliatory tariffs, reducing overall global demand for certain agriculture products and driving down prices.

A letter sent by the Alaska Delegation to the USDA in June 2019 said that China is the largest of Alaska’s seafood export markets, accounting for about $989 million in annual sales representing more than 50% of Alaska’s seafood products. 

The letter said that China is also the largest re-processor of Alaska seafood, in which headed and gutted fish is filleted, deboned and made into new frozen products before being exported to the U.S. and around the world.  

“The tariffs have impacted the industry. We have asked for exclusions from Chinese tariffs,” said Julie Bonney, the executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank. 

She said the tariffs lower the price of fish sent to China to be reprocessed before being exported elsewhere. 

Although Sullivan has said he supports the Trump administration’s tough stance on China, he noted that retaliatory tariffs have hurt Alaska fishermen. 

He argued that since the USDA has provided relief to farmers, it should do the same for fishermen. 

“If the farmers are getting relief, what about my fishermen, farmers of the sea?” Sullivan said. 

Those eligible for relief funding from the Seafood Trade Relief Program include fishermen in 19 fisheries, such as crab, geoduck herring, Pacific cod, Pacific ocean perch, pollock, sablefish and salmon, among others. 

According to the USDA, these fisheries have experienced retaliatory damages amounting to more than $5 million each. 

Fishermen can apply for relief funding from Sept. 14 to Dec. 14 through the USDA website or by  calling the USDA Service Center in Palmer for more information. 

According to the USDA, payments were calculated using the department’s assessment of the expected trade damage based on the 2019 landings for each species. 

Sullivan said that because the program is new, setbacks may occur, but he added that his office will work closely with the USDA on the program’s implementation. 

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