Seafood sector braces for job and fish losses due to sanctions | News
The global seafood industry braces for price hikes, supply disruptions and potential job losses as new rounds of economic sanctions against Russia render key species such as cod and crab harder to find.
The latest round of US attempts to punish Russia for invading Ukraine include import bans on seafood, alcohol and diamonds. The United States is also stripping Russia of “most favored nation status”. Nations around the world are taking similar action.
Russia is one of the largest seafood producers in the world and was the fifth largest producer of wild fish, according to a 2020 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Russia is not one of the largest exporters of seafood to the United States, but it is a world leader in cod exports (the preference for fish and chips in the United States). It is also a major supplier of crabs and Alaska pollock, widely used in fast food sandwiches and processed products such as fish fingers.
The impact is likely to be felt globally, as well as in places where waterfronts operate.
And while Gloucester certainly has a functioning waterfront, Mark E. DeCristoforo, executive director of the Massachusetts Seafood Collaborative, says the impact on members, including some Gloucester processors, “will be nothing serious.”
The Boston-based collaboration counts among its members the Gloucester Fishermen‘s Wives Association, Lisa T. Corp. and Steve Connolly Seafood Company, which had operations in Gloucester until this year.
“It was done in cooperation with everyone,” said Angela Sanfilippo, president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, “including those who use pollock and crab legs” from Russia. “People said, ‘We are ready to lose money and support the Ukrainian people’.”
In early March, the collaboration called for sanctions on Russian seafood imports as the war in Ukraine escalated, saying the United States had imported $4 billion worth.
“We are absolutely happy that this is happening,” DeCristoforo said of the sanctions, given what is happening in Ukraine. However, the impact on the Massachusetts seafood industry may not be so apparent.
“The members wouldn’t have been so upbeat if it had had a big impact,” DeCristoforo said. He said about 5% of the seafood brought into Massachusetts for processing comes from Russia. Much of it arrives as 500-pound packages of frozen pollock that are processed and repackaged for sale. Processors also imported king crab legs from Alaska.
DeCristoforo said some processors do not import any Russian seafood; some large processors could do about 2% of their business in Russian fish. He said pollock and Alaskan crab come from the same Alaskan waters where Russian trawlers fish.
He said job losses in the fishing industry in Massachusetts were unlikely due to U.S. sanctions on Russian seafood imports, but it could be painful for locals. managers of processing plants who are looking to source their products and who must turn to Alaska or the Nordic countries. What comes from Russia, he added, is not of the highest quality.
DeCristoforo said Bay State fishermen are catching tons of local pollock and haddock, and perhaps the penalties could cause regulators to take a more lighthearted approach when it comes to setting limits. quotas. It may be better to use pollock from local waters than to have it shipped from around the world.
Another place with a functioning waterfront is Maine, where more than $50 million in seafood from Russia passed through Portland in 2021, according to federal statistics.
“If you get cod from Russia, that’s going to be a problem,” said Glen Libby, owner of Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a seafood market in Tenants Harbor, Maine. “It’s quite a mess. We’ll see how it goes.
Russia exported more than 28 million pounds of cod to the United States from January 1, 2020 to January 31, 2022, according to census data.
Both the European Union and the United Kingdom are deeply dependent on Russian seafood. and seafood prices are already rising in Japan, a major seafood consumer that is limiting its trade with Russia.
In the UK, where fish and chips is a cultural marker, store owners and consumers are bracing for price spikes. UK fish and chip shops were already facing pressure from soaring energy costs and rising food prices.
Andrew Crook, head of the National Federation of Fish Fryers, said earlier this month that – even before the war – he expected a third of Britain’s fish and chip shops to go bankrupt. If fish prices go up even more, “we’re really in dire straits,” he said.
In mid-March, the UK imposed a 35% tariff hike on Russian whitefish, including chip shop staple cod and haddock.
“We are an important part of British culture and it would be a shame to see that go away,” he told ITV.
U.S. consumers are most likely to notice the impact of sanctions via the price and availability of fish, said Kanae Tokunaga, who directs the Coastal and Marine Economics Lab at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland.
“Because seafood is a global commodity, even if it’s not harvested in Russia, you will notice the price going up,” Tokunaga said.
In the United States, reliance on foreign cod stems from the loss of its own once-robust Atlantic cod fishery, which has collapsed in the face of overfishing and environmental change. American fishermen, based mostly in New England, brought more than 100 million pounds of cod to the docks a year in the early 1980s, but the 2020 catch was less than 2 million pounds.
Regulators have tried to save the fishery with management measures such as very low catch quotas, and many anglers targeting other East Coast groundfish species, such as haddock and plaice, are now avoiding completely cod.
Massachusetts seafood processors are worried about job losses due to the loss of Russian products, said Democratic U.S. Senator Ed Markey, who supports sanctions against Russia.
“I have heard from seafood processors in my home country expressing concern about the potential sudden effects of another immediate import ban on their workforce, including hundreds of unionized workers in the seafood processing industry,” he told the Senate in February.
For U.S. producers of staple seafood such as fish and chips, the lack of Russian cod could mean turning to other foreign sources, said Walt Golet, assistant research professor at the School of Marine Sciences in the University of Maine.
“Maybe we could import more from Norway, a bit more from Canadian fisheries,” Golet said. “It really depends on the price of those imports.”
As an alternative, producers and consumers could try underutilized domestically-caught fish species, such as Atlantic pollock and rockfish, said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.
“Maybe it’s time to use haddock or hake or maybe monkfish, something different,” Martens said. “If this is going to disrupt supply chains, it provides an opportunity for other species to fill that void.”
Material from staff writer Ethan Forman and The Associated Press was used in this report.
Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London and writer Ethan Forman contributed to this report.