USDA will purchase up to $119.5M in Alaska sockeye, Pacific groundfish

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials have agreed to purchase up to $119.5 million worth of Alaska sockeye salmon and Pacific groundfish for distribution through federal food assistance programs, after months of efforts by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and the state’s Congressional delegation.

The deal is to involve up to $37.5 million in canned Alaska sockeye salmon, up to $30 million in Alaska sockeye salmon fillets, and up to $52 million in Pacific groundfish projects. The Pacific groundfish projects will include pink shrimp and whiting from Oregon and Washington state coastal fisheries, plus some rockfish that could be coming from Alaska waters, said Bruce Schactler, food aid program and development director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Schactler had been working with USDA on these purchases since last fall.

In March the Alaska Congressional delegation sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, stressing the significance of Section 32 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1935 as an opportunity to introduce healthy seafood into the diets of Americans experiencing food insecurity. Section 32 authorizes USDA to support prices of commodities in surplus by purchasing these products in the marketplace, and to distribute these commodities domestically.

Bidding details to determine whom USDA will purchase the fish from are still to be announced.

“USDA’s purchase of Alaska seafood is great news for our fishing industry and all who depend on federal food assistance,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “These purchases provide Alaska harvesters the perfect opportunity to bring healthy Alaskan seafood to families who need it most.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, praised contributions of Alaska’s fishermen to the nation’s food supply chain, and Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, praised efforts to provide essential nutrition to families needing food, while supporting the state’s world class fisheries.