U.S. fishermen and seafood companies are getting clobbered by COVID-19 hits to markets, but that hasn’t stopped the federal government from spending billions of dollars on millions of pounds of seafood from Russia.
The purchases have continued to grow since the virus hit our shores – although Russia has not bought an ounce of US seafood for six years.
In 2014 Russia placed an embargo on U.S. food products to retaliate for sanctions it and other countries imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. Before that, Russia accounted for over $61 million in Alaska sales, including more than 76 percent of the value for pink salmon roe.
Alaska and Russia catch many of the same types of fish and crabs species and Russian products compete directly in the U.S. at much lower prices.
But no corresponding limits were placed on Russia selling its seafood into the U.S.
In fact, the value of Russian seafood imports to the U.S. has grown 70 percent since 2014 and has tripled to nearly $670 million since 2016.
And it all comes into the U.S. almost entirely duty free.
For all of 2019, for example, the U.S. bought over 80 million pounds of seafood from Russia totaling nearly $700 million, an increase of $11.5 million from 2018.
That includes 6.5 million pounds of frozen Russian-caught sockeye salmon valued at nearly $17 million.
Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, calls it unfair.
“We have a really good domestic market for Alaska sockeye, yet anytime our prices get high, here comes this Russian sockeye and there’s no channel for us to send salmon back there. It was a big market for us but it’s been closed and yet we’re leaving our gates open for Russian product coming in. And it just seems very unfair as far as trade practices go.”
Last year the U.S. also has purchased over $293 million worth of red king crab g $336 million. And nearly 5 million pounds of Russian caught cod at nearly $17 million.
Learn more about the Russia seafood trade imbalance in a white paper from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.