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Updated: August 18, 2021

Maine delegation urges USDA to buy seafood from Maine fishermen

person on boat with fish Courtesy / True Fin Maine’s congressional delegation asked the federal government to buy seafood from Maine’s independent fishermen. Here, fisherman Jim Ford gets ready to bring in a haul of groundfish.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture has increased its seafood buying in response to the pandemic and directives from Congress, none of the agency’s COVID-related seafood purchases have been awarded to suppliers based in Maine.

Maine’s congressional delegation called out the agency on Tuesday in hopes of drawing attention to product harvested by the state's small-scale independent fishermen.

“USDA efforts to engage these smaller producers will pay large dividends — supporting and maintaining economic activity in rural areas, and helping develop consumers’ tastes for seafood that is sustainable, affordable, and harvested close to their homes,” U.S. Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine 1st District, and Jared Golden, D-Maine 2nd District, wrote in a joint letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The letter urged the Biden administration to work with small-boat family fishing businesses to fully explore opportunities for Maine seafood products in USDA’s procurement efforts, according to a news release.

The delegation has worked to ensure that USDA purchases of seafood and COVID-19 relief for seafood processing vessels and facilities were included in the 2021 Consolidated Appropriation Act and the American Rescue Plan Act. But the majority of the USDA seafood purchases have benefited other regions of the country and segments of the broader seafood industry, the letter said.

It cited a program instituted by the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, an industry association in Massachusetts, for creating a market for a sustainable, often-undervalued fish by creating a haddock chowder.

Similar programs could be instituted for other species, such as monkfish, that are landed by Maine fishermen, according to the congressional delegation. The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, an industry-based nonprofit in Brunswick, is working to develop a monkfish stew for that plentiful species.  

The delegation also asked USDA to: 

• Accelerate the deployment of seafood chowder and soup specifications within the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Food and Nutrition Service.

• Extend those specifications to include chowders and soups using sustainable seafood products from all regions of the country, including Maine.

• Include sustainable seafood products from independent fishermen in USDA purchasing and distribution programs. 

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