ICYMI: Sullivan Reiterates Call to End Russian Seafood Imports, Stand Up for Alaskan Fishermen

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) today spoke on the Senate floor about the continued import of Russian seafood into the U.S., despite there being a prohibition in place. Sen. Sullivan again urged his colleagues to pass his U.S-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act of 2023, bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would close a loophole allowing Russian harvested seafood that has been reprocessed in other countries to be imported into the U.S. at the same time American fishermen are afforded zero access to the Russian market. Sullivan has been leading the effort for years to correct the injustice and reestablish reciprocity in the U.S.-Russian seafood trade relationship.

In his remarks, Sullivan argued that the existing prohibition is failing to meet its objective and undermines American fishermen and seafood processors, enriches Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs funding the brutal invasion of Ukraine, and empowers the People’s Republic of China to continue utilizing Uyghur slave labor to process some of this seafood. Sen. Sullivan urged several U.S. based seafood companies who both sell and serve the reprocessed Russian seafood and oppose his legislation to instead buy American-sourced seafood as an input to their seafood supply chain.

“The authoritarian regimes of Putin and Xi Jinping are working together to avoid American sanctions. They take the Russian seafood caught in Russian waters, and they send it to China and have slave labor transform it, and then sell it to the United States. They are sneaking around our sanctions. That is happening right now,” said Sen. Sullivan. “American companies importing this reprocessed Russian fish—trust me, it’s not a good business model to be selling Uyghur, slave labor-produced seafood … That's going to catch up with you. It’s not a good business model to be helping fund the Putin war machine … My answer is: Come on, be patriotic. Stand with America. Stand with American fishermen. Let's do legislation that can … help defeat slave labor, help the environment, help strong American fishermen, help workers’ rights, and go after Russian and Chinese abuses in the seafood industry.”

Full transcript: 

I want to talk about two issues today here on the Senate floor. One is a really important one—it’s a policy issue that we have to solve. What I'm trying to do today is just make sure my colleagues—because a lot of them get kind of fed some misinformation on this issue—and then the American people writ large know what's going on, so we can fix this issue. And I'm hoping the White House and the administration, Treasury Department, everybody's watching, because this is an easy one.

Imagine this, Madam President, if someone came to you and said, all right, let's see, is there legislation that we could pass that would help end slave labor in China with the Uyghurs, help make sure we had a really strong environment for our oceans and our fisheries, help make sure we weren't funding the Russian war machine to go kill innocent civilians in Ukraine, help make sure we keep strong American coastal communities, and help promote the great American fishermen who work so hard all over this great nation and who’ve been doing it way before the founding of the Republic—if there is legislation that could do all those things, wouldn't you want to support it? And, by the way, (it would) undermine our adversaries, the two big adversaries we have, Russia and China. Is there legislation pending in the U.S. Senate that could do all of these things? The answer is yes. Hell, yes!  

I would just want to make sure all my colleagues know, because when I bring this to the floor when we come back in the new year, I just want to make sure everyone supports it because it's a no-brainer. It is a no-brainer. So, Madam President, what am I talking about? Well, it's my U.S.-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act. I've got a bunch of co-sponsors, Democrats and Republicans. Senator Cantwell is a big, big promoter of this, just as one example.  

Let me just give a little bit of background, because people are saying, you’ve got a piece of legislation can do all that? Yeah, we sure do. And why anyone would not support it? Well, once they get educated, they'll support it. Let's talk about it just very briefly.  

Madam President, what's the background here? I'm going to go way back, almost ten years. The Russians invade Crimea. You have the aggressive dictator Vladimir Putin trying to invade everybody, right? We have to make sure he doesn't win in Ukraine. The Obama administration smacks them with sanctions. I wasn't here then, but that's what happened. This is in 2014, but I supported that. And then the Russians retaliate. Now, one of the things they did when they retaliated is that they said we're going to ban the importation of all American seafood into Russia. Now, Russia's got a big seafood market. Russia said no American seafood can come into Russia.  

By the way, my state is the superpower of seafood. The great state of Alaska is responsible for the harvest of over two-thirds of all fish and seafood in America. Two-thirds. 66 percent. We are the superpower of seafood. There’s a lot of other great states that export seafood. I'm not sure the great state of Nevada does, but that's a whole another topic.  

This is really important to my constituents. Tens of thousands of my great constituents are involved with this. So imagine that Russia was still allowed to import in the United States, almost duty free, and we can't export one fish. That's been the situation since 2014. Right there, that's just unfair.  

So I tried to work with the Obama administration, the Trump administration, the Biden administration to fix this. Unfair. By the way, the Russian seafood guys were eating into our fishermen's market, in our own home, in our own U.S. market. Not fair. And, by the way, American fishermen, Alaskan fishermen have the highest standards by far in the world on the environment, on sustainable fisheries, on the management of fisheries in our oceans. This is something Senator Whitehouse and I pass a lot of legislation on. On worker rights—highest in the world. It's not even close. So the highest standards on the planet, right in America, right in Alaska. Russia, China? I'm going to get to them. Lowest in the world. So keep that in mind as we talk about this issue.  

Then it literally takes a war to fix this. Russia brutally invades Ukraine. The Biden administration is putting together a sanctions package. I call the White House and say, “Hey, look, how about including in your sanctions package a way to fix this unfair trade situation where Russia won't allow us to import one fish and they can export into the United States all they want.” No way! So, to his credit, President Biden said or his team, “Hey, I agree with Senator Sullivan. Let's smack them with sanctions on fish.” So the Biden initial executive order hitting Russia after they invaded Ukraine said Russia can't import in the United States. Great. I've been working on that for ten years, and it's only fair.  

So what happened?  

These sneaky authoritarians. By the way, the Russian seafood industry is controlled by oligarchs who are literally taking a lot of that money and funding the Putin war machine. Remember that, my colleagues who might want to object to this later—money going to fund the Putin war machine from fisheries. That's a fact.  

So anyways, the little sneaky authoritarian regimes—Putin, Xi Jinping—they're working together. They're like—Hey, let's avoid those American sanctions. We'll take the Russian seafood caught by Russian fishermen in Russian waters, and we'll send it to China and we'll have slave labor in China transform it, and then we'll send it to the United States. We'll sneak around those sanctions. Big loophole, using slave labor. So that's what they're doing right now. They're doing it every day. Hundreds of millions of dollars, if not in the billions, are avoiding these sanctions by saying, let's take the Russian seafood—worst environmental standards in the world—we'll send it to China. We'll use slave labor by the Uyghurs to transform it, and we'll call it “Chinese” fish and then send it into the American market. That is happening right now. Right now.  

My legislation is simple. It closes the loophole.  

And by the way, Madam President, it's a really good idea because word's getting out that the Chinese fishing industry is a disaster. They take these big fleets, they go all over the world, they ravage the high seas, they ravage fisheries wherever they go. They're like—what's a good analogy? I don't know. Rats in the water. Right? They destroy the high seas fisheries. They go off the coasts of smaller countries in South America and Africa that don't have coast guards, can't afford anything. They're literally like the abuser of the oceans of the world, China. And then they use slave labor. How do I know? Because there has been article after article just in the last several weeks. Politico did a great article. I'd like to submit for the record after my remarks. Madam President, this one's called, it's in Politico magazine: “How Uyghur Forced Labor Makes Seafood That Ends Up in American School Lunches.” I'd like to submit that for the record, Madam President. Without objection.  

The New Yorker's done great work on this. One was titled, “The Crimes Behind the Seafood You Eat.” It's from The New Yorker. “Americans know little about their seafood, how it's sourced—much of it comes from a vast fleet of Chinese ships. Onboard, human rights abuses are rampant.” I’d like to submit that for the record, Madam President. Without objection. And then, another one from The New Yorker: “The Uyghurs Forced to Process the World's Fish.” Slave labor. You know, the Chinese, they try to dominate everything, trying to dominate the fishing industry at the expense of my fishermen. Unfair practices. “The Uyghurs Forced to Process the World's Fish.” This is from The New Yorker in October of this year. The subheading: “As China forces minorities from Xinjiang Province to work in industries around the country, as it turns out, this includes handling much of the seafood sent to America and Europe.” I'd like to submit that for the record, Madam President.  

So this is what's going on. Now, look. There are always a few companies out there, including in our great nation—and I'm not besmirching them or anything—but, they kind of whine. And, remember, this happened at the beginning of the Ukraine war. You might remember, Madam President, a lot of us Democrats and Republicans are like, “Hey, let's make sure we stop the Russian war machine, because right now America's importing a lot of Russian oil.” And the Europeans and Germans in particular were saying, “We're importing a lot of Russian gas.” So some have said, well, hey, we're going to cut that off. Let's cut it off. Let's nail them. And you might remember the beginning of the war, people were saying, even in this country—the Biden administration folks, “Well, we can't really cut off Russian oil. That'll hurt the American economy.”  

What about those importers of Russian oil in America, those refineries that use Russian oil? What about those guys and the Germans? Same thing. “Well, we can't really cut off the importation of Russian gas because, well, shoot, we use it now.”  

Not a lot of people were buying those arguments. I certainly wasn't. And the way we got around those arguments was, well, wait a minute, we know that's going to be a little painful. But here's an idea. Let's not import Russian oil. Let's use American oil! Let's use more oil from Alaska. We have way higher environmental standards, way higher worker standards. And you Germans—don't import Russian gas, don't fund the Putin war machine. We'll send you LNG from America! So the Germans, the Biden administration, everybody was like: That's a good idea. So what did we do? We cut off Russian oil in Europe. They cut off Russian gas. That's hurting those guys. That's good. And what did we do? We said, let's fill it up with American oil and gas.  

So why am I using that as an analogy? Because we have a couple companies. Look, and I get it. But as I said when I debated Senator Markey a couple of months ago, it's not a good business model. American fish importers, trust me—not a good business model to be using slave labor Uyghur seafood from China. At a certain point, Captain D's, you're one of the companies, that's going to catch up with you. It's going to catch up with you. Not a good business model to be helping fund the Putin war machine. I know there's a few companies out there saying, “We don't like the Sullivan bill.” Shoot. Really?  

So what's the answer? It's the same answer: We have great American fishermen who can make sure you guys, Captain D's, or whoever else—I guess some in Virginia—you get fish! Don't worry. By the way, it's a much higher standard. I just learned today that a lot of the Russian fish sent to China, it gets injected with 40 percent phosphates and water to plump it up to make it look more plump. That’s disgusting. And then it gets sent to America, maybe to Captain D's.  

My point here is, we're not out to hurt you. We can say, use American producers, use great American fishermen from all over. Not just Alaska—Maine, Virginia, California, Oregon, Washington State. Use them! Don't block this legislation. Don't be a Putin lackey. Don't help fund the war machine. Don't help Xi Jinping's forced labor, slave labor with the Uyghurs. Buy American, for goodness’ sake! Stand with American fishermen.

So when we come back, I'm going to work this hard. And for all of you—and there's not many—but a few importers, I hope NFI is not doing this either. I hear they are, which would be really bad because they're supposed to promote the exporters too. That's the National Fisheries Institute. But what you need to do is not block this. This is a freight train, right? And it's going to pass. You want to get out of the way and you want to help stand with American fishermen. Let us in Alaska supply your company. Don't rely on slave labor Chinese fish. Don't rely on authoritarian aggression, Putin-backed seafood from Russia with low environmental standards.  

By the way, they're flooding the markets globally because they're worried and they're hurting fishermen in America, for sure. My fishermen, my fishing communities in my state are really hurting right now. This can help them.  

So, Madam President, we've been working on this hard. A lot of my Republican and Democratic colleagues are 100 percent with me. Like I said, there are a few importers who are kind of working the halls here. And my answer is: Come on, be patriotic. Stand with America. Stand with American fishermen. Let's do legislation that can—what did I say at the beginning of my remarks? Now do you understand? Help defeat slave labor. Help the environment. Help strong American fishermen. Help workers rights and go after Russian and Chinese abuses in the seafood industry.  

It is all over the place, and it’s only going to grow more widespread in terms of the knowledge of the American people saying: Wait a minute, I won't eat fish if it's slave labor fish, Putin oligarch fish. No! I want to buy fish—by the way with the highest standards in the world by far. We don't inject 40 percent phosphates into this fish. That makes it disgusting. I want to stand with American fishermen and buy seafood from Americans. So that's what we're going to do. We’re going to close that loophole.

Madam President, it's a big issue. Thanks for listening. But I sure hope when we get back that my colleagues will fully support it. I think 99.9 percent of them already do. And that's the right answer. It's the right thing for our country and the right thing for America's fishermen. 

# # #