ICYMI: Sullivan Fights to Close Russian Seafood Loophole Hurting American Fishermen & Seafood Producers
Senate Democrats (Again) Defend Unfair Russian Access to U.S. Seafood Market
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) on Thursday took aim at a threat to Alaska fishermen and the Alaska seafood industry, attempting to address the continued import of Russian seafood into the U.S., despite there being a prohibition in place. Sen. Sullivan attempted to expedite passage of his recently-introduced U.S-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act of 2023, bipartisan and bicameral legislation to closea loophole thatisallowingRussian-origin seafoodthat has been reprocessed in other counties to be imported into the U.S. at the same time American fishermen are afforded zero access to the Russian market—but his bill was blocked by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). In February of 2022, Sen. Sullivanattempted to pass similar legislation to establish reciprocity in the U.S.-Russia seafood trading relationship, but the effort was also blocked by Sen. Markey.
“Russian seafood companies are largely owned by Russian oligarchs who are supporting Putin's war of aggression in Ukraine, and, of course, they have been stealing market share from American and Alaskan fishermen. Does anyone in America think this makes sense? It doesn't,” said Sen. Sullivan. “Russia and China are colluding to avoid the Biden executive order. It is hurting American and Alaskan fishermen, once again, and it is strengthening Russia: the oligarchs, the government, the Putin war machine...What I am trying to do now with my legislation is close the loophole. It is going to broaden the application of the President's executive order to encompass seafood products harvested in Russian waters or by Russian vessels. That is it. That is what my bill does. Who in America, who in the Senate would be against that?”
In March of 2022, at the urging of Senators Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 14068, which prohibits the import of unaltered seafood originating from Russia. However, EO 14068 failed to block Russian seafood that has been substantially transformed in another country through reprocessing. American fishermen are still blocked from selling on the Russian market due to Russia’s own prohibition on the import of U.S. and other western seafood products since 2014.
Senator Sullivan has continued to press the Biden administration to close the loophole, including in a productive phone call today with Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo.
A full transcript of the floor remarks is below.
SEN. SULLIVAN: Mr. President, I rise this afternoon to bring forward, once again, my bill--the United States-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act.
This is a really important bill for our fishermen throughout America. This is a really important bill as it relates to sanctions against Russia. It is a really important bill as it relates to not letting Russia and China evade sanctions that the President of the United States has put on them--the Russians, in particular.
It should be a bipartisan bill with regard to unanimous consent. I tried to move it last year. It had an objection. We worked through the objection and amended the bill to address the objection, in working with the Biden administration, to try to fix this from an administrative standpoint, but we were not getting anywhere.
Once I explain what is happening, I think every person watching--every American watching--and every Alaskan, certainly, is going to go: What the heck? Why on Earth are we not passing Senator Sullivan's bill?
What is the background?
Well, here it is.
You know, I often brag about the great State of Alaska as being the superpower of seafood as over 60 percent of all of the seafood harvested in America comes from Alaska's waters. We have the most sustainable fisheries and the best managed fisheries literally in the world. They feed Americans. They feed the whole world.
So this bill is about that, certainly. But it is about all fishermen, including in Massachusetts. I guess my colleague from Massachusetts is going to come and object, which is a real disappointment. But this bill is also very much about geopolitics and going after the Russians, which is all what we think, collectively, we should be doing after their brutal invasion of Ukraine.
So what is the background?
Let me start with some explanation.
In 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula, the United States imposed sanctions on Russia in a whole host of different areas. The Russians retaliated with their own sanctions, and one of those sanctions was that Russia banned the import of all American seafood into Russia. It is a big market. It is certainly a big market for my fishermen. But what was crazy about that is that the Russians had banned the importation of America's seafood into Russia in 2014. So what is that--8 years ago? 9 years ago? Yet we have kept our market open to Russian seafood.
If you want to talk about an unlevel playing field, Russian seafood pours into the United States pretty much duty free, and American seafood--Alaskan seafood--going into Russia is banned. So that is just wrong. That is just wrong. Russian seafood imports into the United States have increased by close to 200 percent--200 percent.
Russian seafood companies are largely owned by Russian oligarchs, who are supporting this war--Putin's war of aggression in Ukraine--and, of course, they have been stealing market share from American fishermen, undermining the markets for our U.S. fishermen that we have worked hard on in our own country.
Does anyone in America think this makes sense? It doesn't. It doesn't.
Much of this cash, the Russian imports--we are talking hundreds of millions, up 200 percent--go back to the Russian oligarchs, the Russian Government to help drive their war machine.
So since I came to the Senate 8 years ago, I have been trying with every administration to stop this unlevel playing field. Again, Russia imports hundreds of millions of dollars of seafood into our market almost duty-free, going after American fishermen, and we can't export one fish to Russia. Who thinks that is fair? So I tried with President Obama--he wouldn't help; President Trump--he wouldn't help; and President Biden. Well, it took a war--literally, it took a war--to get some administration to try and fix this.
President Biden--to his credit and at my urging--when he issued his Executive order targeting the Russians with sanctions, part of that order included a prohibition of Russian seafood coming into America. Great. That is what we needed. That is only fair. It goes after the Russian war-machine oligarchs. That was welcome news, intended to isolate the Russian economy. However--however--the Biden Executive order--which, again, we appreciated very much. It is about time. It took only 8 years for our own government to say: Wow. Look at this unlevel playing field between Russia and America with regard to our fishermen and our seafood. But the Biden Executive order has a
loophole. It has got a massive loophole that, of course, the Russians are taking advantage of.
The vast majority of Russian seafood is harvested and frozen in simple product forms and then--guess what--it is shipped to which country? That other great dictatorship in the world--I am joking when I say ``great''; it is a brutal dictatorship--China. So Russian fishermen now send all their fish to China to get it reprocessed--laundered, essentially. They fill it with phosphates. And guess where they ship it to. The United States. Hundreds of millions of dollars of Russian seafood now gets sent to China--another dictatorship--and they send it back to the United States almost duty-free. That is a giant loophole.
It is happening every day. It is an outrage.
By the way, it is really bad seafood. It turns Americans off from eating seafood. They fill it with phosphates, plump it up, nasty, and they send it back to the United States.
So now Russia and China are colluding to avoid the Biden Executive order. It is hurting American fishermen, once again, and it is strengthening Russia: the oligarchs, the government, the Putin war machine.
I have been working patiently--patiently--for a year with this administration. The Deputy Secretary of the Treasury is supposed to call me back today.
You better call me, Mr. Secretary.
The Secretary of Homeland Security, let's close this loophole. Let's close this loophole. It is only benefiting Russia and China, for goodness' sake, and it is hurting our fishermen. So I am not sure why this isn't happening.
Again, I have been talking to the administration. The Secretary of Homeland Security said: Senator, we will take care of this. You are right. This is a loophole we can't abide by. CBP will enforce this. The Deputy Secretary of the Treasury: Senator, we will work with OFAC to close this loophole. That has been a year, and we are still waiting. And the Russian war machine benefits from this. The Chinese, of course, benefit from this. And American fishermen are getting screwed. Why isn't our government helping?
Come on, Mr. Secretary. Come on, Mr. Deputy Secretary, call me today. Let's fix this.
But we are not waiting. We are not waiting.
What I am trying to do now with my legislation is close the loophole. It is going to broaden the application of the President's Executive order to encompass seafood products harvested in Russian waters or by Russian vessels. That is it. That is what my bill does. Who in America, who in the Senate would be against that?
This will capture Russian-origin products, including those being laundered in China. That is it. That is all I want to do.
With the U.S.-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act, every Republican is cleared on it. Pretty much every Democrat has cleared on it. And who wouldn't want to? Because if you are against this bill, you are for Russian oligarchs who are still avoiding sanctions on seafood. You are against the American fishermen, whether in Alaska or Massachusetts, because they are getting screwed by this uneven trade relationship, and you are helping the Chinese. I can't imagine anyone being against this.
I am frustrated, as you can tell. My fishermen have been hurt by this. The Russian war machine keeps giving revenues. The Russian oligarchs who control these companies are getting richer. The Chinese are getting richer, and the American fishermen are getting poorer. By the way, American consumers are getting a pretty gross product from China, filled with Chinese additives and phosphates.
So I told the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury: Hey, I have had enough. Come on, you guys have got to fix this. It is not hard. We do Russian origins--we do origins of seafood. Buyers know where this is coming from.
I see my good friend--and he is my good friend--Senator Markey is on the floor and probably is going to object, which would be really disappointing. But even that, a year ago, when Senator Markey objected to this, I said: Well, let's work together, so we did. And one of the things we put in my bill is in this bill now; it has got a 90-day provision to enforce it. So if you are an American seafood company still importing Russian seafood--and you know it, by the way, so shame on you, shame on you--but you are like: Hey, boy, I know. I am kind of addicted to this Russian seafood that goes through China. I am going to need some time to get other seafood markets for my seafood processors in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. This bill says: OK. We will give you 90 days.
By the way, I have talked to Alaska fishermen. They say like, hey, you need fish? Get it from us. Get it from America. Get it from Alaska. Why are you getting it from the Russians and the Chinese? For goodness' sake. Who the hell is for that? Who can be for that?
Our importers know how to trace, so that is not a good excuse.
This isn't about lost jobs. Like I said, we can supply the seafood from Americans--great Alaskan and Massachusetts fishermen.
I am down here frustrated. The Biden administration won't close a loophole that they promised me they would. It is not that hard. Come on, guys. Really? You are OK with a loophole and the President's own sanctions that provide hundreds of millions of dollars to the Russian Government and oligarchs because you are cheating and going through China? You don't want to close that loophole? I doubt if someone told President Biden about this; he would want to close that loophole.
I am here on the floor, and I am going to ask unanimous consent for my U.S.-Russian Seafood Reciprocity Act. It is the right thing to do. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows it.
I hope my colleague Senator Markey is down here on the floor to say: I support this bill because it is the right thing to do for fishermen in Alaska and Massachusetts, and it is certainly the right thing to do to keep the screws tightened on the Russian war machine.
So, Mr. President, as in legislative session, I ask unanimous consent that the Finance Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. 2011 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration. I further ask that the bill be considered read a third time and passed, and that the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.
The PRESIDING OFFICER: Is there objection? The Senator from Massachusetts.
SEN. MARKEY: Mr. President, reserving the right to object, I vigorously oppose Putin's illegal and unjust invasion of Ukraine, and I have supported American aid to help Ukraine defend itself. Putin's war of aggression cannot stand. And I am perfectly willing to push back on Russia, but we have to do it the right way.
I sincerely respect the Senator from Alaska's concerns about Russian seafood imports. I believe it is unfair and improper that Russia has banned American seafood imports since 2014. And I appreciate the Senator's willingness to work with me on his proposal last year that would have created an immediate disruption to the seafood supply chain and to instead provide more time for our processors who purchase more than 80 percent of their seafood from Alaska to be able to meet demand with supplies from other markets. However, the bill Senator Sullivan is trying to pass through live by unanimous consent today--which has not yet been considered in the Senate Finance Committee to which it was referred--has raised other questions from seafood processors and from my colleagues in New England in terms of workability.
The Senator was able to work with my staff to resolve the issues in his proposal last year, and I thank him for that. But this new proposal has new provisions that will need some time for us to work out.
We actually succeeded last year, but now we need the time to do the same thing, and we have to make sure that it has workability for New England.
The bill would block the import of Russian seafood that has been substantially transformed in another country. It is unclear if U.S. Customs and Border Protection has the full capacity to determine and enforce where seafood comes from before it has been substantially transformed, since this new proposal would go against how seafood origin has been considered under longstanding U.S. law and defined through the U.S. Treasury Department.
So, as a result, while Customs and Border Protection attempts this difficult enforcement task, processors could see major disruption. Workers could lose their jobs. Consumer goods costs for Americans could rise significantly.
With that in mind, and with a sincere message that I want to send to the Senator from Alaska with regard to not only mine but our entire New England delegation's willingness to work with him, I object to the passage of this bill at this time, and I ask the Senator to continue to have a willingness to work with us so that we can resolve the new issues that are raised in this proposal. So at this time, I object.
SEN. SULLIVAN: Mr. President, I certainly will continue to work with my friend from Massachusetts--and he is my friend, and I have a lot of respect for him. He and I work together on a number of things, but with all due respect, that was a bit of a rope-a-dope tapdance you just witnessed here on the Senate floor because he pretty much made the same arguments 16 months ago--16 months ago; the same arguments, right here, the two of us. Let me address a couple of these.
The issue of this tough on CBP to do this, it is not that tough. I have talked to the head of CBP. Heck, I have talked to the Secretary of Homeland Security. They can do this. The U.S. market demands a high level of scrutiny on seafood supply chains. We already have certification systems in place that require the kind of information needed to enforce my legislation. Any seafood supplier who is serious about their job knows that they have this information.
By the way, most seafood suppliers are getting off Russian seafood because they know what is happening. They don't want to support this Russian war machine.
Unfortunately, we are seeing some certification efforts, such as the Marine Stewardship Council--shame on them--allowing themselves to be pulled into a profit-driven mindset that is focused on one thing: money and benefiting Russia. What do I mean by that?
You can hardly believe it. When I heard the MSC--supposedly, an organization with a good reputation--the Marine Stewardship Council has recently certified Russian fisheries as sustainable, this is a joke. It is ridiculous. Shame on you, MSC, helping fund the Putin war machine.
Regardless, I am 100-percent certain that any companies in America now laundering Russian product--and you know who you are--companies which, unfortunately, I worry my colleague from Massachusetts is defending—they absolutely have the ability to trace and certify exactly where the products are coming from. That is a fact. So this argument, which was made 16 months ago, still doesn't work.
On the job loss issue, we put into this bill a 90-day provision to prevent the disruption. U.S. harvests of seafood are largely from U.S. citizens, including thousands of independent owners and operators of fishing vessels and small businesses in coastal communities in Alaska, in Massachusetts, and all over this great country. And they are being hurt by this.
There are Massachusetts fishermen right now who want my bill to be passed--100 percent. We know that. Certainly, thousands of Alaskan fishermen. But if you want to compare jobs, let's go. Commercial fishing is the top employer in terms of jobs in my State, and it is a big employer in Massachusetts.
So to my colleague from Massachusetts, what I offered last year I still offer now. Let Alaskan fishermen send their fish to you guys. Or, heck, Massachusetts fishermen, don't rely on Russian fishermen laundered through the communist Chinese economy to go to a few processors in Massachusetts. That is why you are blocking this. No offense, but that is why you are blocking this.
So, look, I know you are vigorously supporting Ukraine and so am I, but this is a chink in the armor here. On this issue, you are not. And we can solve this right now if you change your vote, my colleague, and say: You know what, I am not going to object. Senator Sullivan is right. My fishermen need this. Alaskan fishermen need this. Let's clamp down on the Russian war machine.
Sixteen months ago my colleague from Massachusetts made these same arguments--16 months ago. It is outrageous. I will continue to work with him, but the rope-a-dope tap dance isn't convincing. We need to move on this, Mr. President. How you could be down on the floor of the U.S. Senate defending this laundering and undermining of President Biden's Russian sanctions is beyond me. I will keep working it.
Maybe the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, or maybe the White House--Jake Sullivan, you should care about this. But for goodness' sake, let's not come on the Senate floor and make the same arguments that were made 16 months ago that we addressed in the bill that I just brought to the floor.
The only benefit, right now, of this objection--the only benefit--is the Putin--the Russian war machine, the oligarchs who own the Russian fishing industry, and the Chinese Communist Party leaders who are part of the laundering process in China.
Every American fisherman loses right now. So I am going to keep working this. And I am disappointed in my colleague, who made these same arguments 16 months ago and is still not convinced.
SEN. MARKEY: Mr. President, again, the Senator from Alaska and I are friends. His father is a Sullivan. My mother is a Sullivan. Sullivans are very intelligent people, by the way.
So, last year, Senator Sullivan brought a bill out onto the floor. We had concerns coming from the Massachusetts fishing community--New Bedford, Gloucester, famous fishing ports, still today competing with Alaska for the title in the United States for the largest in the country. And there were some concerns. So I objected. We called a time-out on the field, and we worked out all of those issues. That was round 1.
Now, yesterday, the Senator from Alaska has a new bill with new provisions in it. In addition to the provisions from last year that we worked out, there are all new provisions. And it is not a rope-a-dope--though, obviously, anything that uses a Muhammad Ali-created concept is a great honor to have attached to us, but we don't see this as rope-a-dope. This is more just round 2. We finished round 1. Now we are on round 2.
A whole new bill, new language, and, again, the same thing. We are willing to work with you, but we can't solve it in 24 hours. My staff and yours, sitting down with other members of the New England delegation, we can get together and find a commonsense pathway through it. But, right now, Gorton's of Gloucester is very concerned about this bill. One firm has 450 workers, another has 350 workers, and we have dozens of other companies up in Massachusetts with employees that are potentially jeopardized by this bill.
So I am objecting. But I am objecting and inviting the Senator from Alaska to, again, engage once again in a good-faith negotiation, and we are willing to do so. Then, at the completion of that, we can again agree and move forward.
But I am objecting mainly because of this cascade of concerns that are coming from the food processing industry, the seafood processing industry, in Massachusetts, all across New England, led by Gorton's of Gloucester but many, many others who don't have the same kind of national and international reputation but who feel greatly jeopardized by the language in this bill. And that is the reason that I am objecting while simultaneously saying: It is not a rope-a-dope. Let's sit down. Let's try to work out the differences.
SEN. SULLIVAN: Mr. President, I will take my colleague and friend from Massachusetts up on his offer. Round 1; 16 months later, round 2. That is a lot of people hurting, including Massachusetts fishermen, by this unfair trading that we have with Russia--completely unfair. Again, they can import all they want into the United States now through China. We can't import at all there.
So I will work with him. The new provisions, by the way, are meant to enhance the ability to trace the Russian seafood being laundered. So that helps. It still has the 90 days to help Gorton's of Gloucester and others to address this.
But at least my colleague is being honest, right? This is about Gorton's of Gloucester. That is kind of what we knew. By the way, to Gorton's of Gloucester, here is my message to you: Continuing to import Russian seafood is a bad business idea. It is a bad business idea. Funding the Putin war machine is a bad business idea. Most American business companies have realized that.
So, Gorton's of Gloucester, here is my idea for you: Buy more Alaskan seafood. Buy more Massachusetts seafood. Get off your addiction to Russian war-machine seafood that is laundered through China. It is an unsustainable business model, and at some point, even your U.S. Senator is not going to be able to defend you.
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