Alaska lawmakers applaud Biden administration ban on Russian seafood imports

fish fillets
Fish at the Ocean Beauty seafood plant in 2014. Russia slapped an embargo on American fish and seafood products in 2014, and lawmakers at the state and federal levels have been calling for a Russian seafood ban for years. (Eric Keto/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

State and federal lawmakers from Alaska are applauding the Biden administration’s decision to ban Russian seafood imports. It’s part of a series of escalating sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young released statements Friday welcoming the move.

Legislators at the state and federal levels have been calling for a Russian seafood ban for years. State Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said the White House is finally paying attention to the issue.

“I’m really pleased the President has made this announcement, and I think it’s extremely important for Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry, you know, it’s been a totally unfair relationship in the past,” Stevens said.

Russia slapped an embargo on American fish and seafood products in 2014 in response to U.S. sanctions imposed over its annexation of Crimea.

The waters off Alaska are home to the country’s largest commercial fisheries by value and volume. And Kodiak is the third largest fishing port in the country. House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said Alaska fishermen are ready to fill the void.

“Alaska is positioned pretty well in their seafood and I think we can step up to the plate and supply Americans with good, fresh, nice seafood,” she said.

Just how the ban will play out on the market could come down to the type of seafood though. Bruce Schactler is the global food aid program director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. He’s also been a fisherman in Kodiak for the past 50 years. And he said there’s a spiny red elephant in the room — Russia’s enormous king crab fishery.

“I’d say availability is not going to be good because there’s a little bit from a Norwegian king crab. I’m not sure where they are in their harvesting timeline or anything but their volume is low,” Schactler said. “So, it’s not really going to supply much at all. So basically, it looks like, as I said before, unless enforcement is nil, and they allow the king crab to come to the US through China. There’s just not going to be any king crab to eat.”

bill making its way through Congress from Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski could close the China loophole by banning seafood of Russian origin even if it’s shipped from China. In a call with reporters Friday an aide in Sullivan’s office said the bill could get a vote in the Senate next week. The aide said the Biden administration has indicated it would be in favor of signing it into law.

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