After much debate within the industry, crabbers and processing companies are stepping up to get Russian seafood imports banned in the U.S. But fish is a global business, and some companies are refusing to support a ban until the European Union gets on board.
It’s been two weeks since Russia banned imports of American food products into its country. Now, Alaska’s seafood industry is asking the U.S. government to strike back.
Terry Shaff is the president of UniSea — one of 10 major processing companies that’s lobbying to get Russian seafood kicked out of the U.S.
“Well, what we would really like is to have Russia lift their embargo of all U.S. seafood products going into Russia. And it seems like we just can’t go and ask them to please do that. So one of the best ways to do it is to call for a ban – an embargo – on all Russian seafood product coming into the U.S.,” Shaff says.
They’re hoping Alaska’s congressional delegation and federal trade officials can make that happen.
Russell Smith oversees international fisheries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He couldn’t say whether a ban is something they’d support:
“NOAA has focused more on trying to provide our fishermen, our processors with information about what is happening, and trying to help them find other outlets for their product,” Smith says.
But getting clear information has been difficult, ever since Russia stopped accepting food shipments from western nations at the beginning of the month.
The move was supposed to protest economic sanctions from the west, which have been piling up ever since Russian troops seized control of Crimea, in Ukraine.
Even though Alaska’s shore-based processing companies — and even the Bering Sea crab fleet — would support an embargo, the industry isn’t totally united.
Glenn Reid is the president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association.
“There’s a concern — and a desire to have support of interests in the E.U. and other places beyond our region. And absent that support, some people were less comfortable signing on. That’s a general consistency — whether it’s a group or an individual company,” Reid says.
Unless Russia changes course, the ban on western food imports will last until next August.
The scale of American seafood exports to Russia can vary from year to year. But in 2013, the market was valued at $83 million. Most of that is from sales of Alaskan salmon roe, followed by pollock.