July 01, 2020

Bay Senators Urge Support for Oyster, Clam Businesses Facing Economic Hardship Due to Covid-19

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) and Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.) today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging USDA to support local oyster and clam businesses facing economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the letter, the members urge USDA to use funds made available through the Congressional-passed CARES Act to support this industry – which is made up of many small, family owned businesses throughout Maryland and Virginia – during this time of need. These businesses make up a crucial part of the region’s seafood industry and our economy.

“We write today concerning the ongoing public health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 and the urgent need to support our nation’s food production industries, including the shellfish aquaculture industry. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability Act (CARES Act; Pub. L. 116–136) provides appropriations for relief to agricultural producers who have suffered economic harm due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the Chesapeake Bay region, the seafood industry provides more than $4.6 billion in economic impact and supports more than 30,000 jobs. The industry, including the shellfish aquaculture sector, has suffered significant economic harm due to supply chain disruptions,” the Members begin.

They go on to ask USDA to use funds provided by the CARES Act – including funds from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) – to support the shellfish industry, noting, “A total of $16 billion has been appropriated and allocated through CFAP to directly support agricultural producers impacted by the coronavirus. This includes $9.5 billion appropriated under Title I of Section B of the CARES Act and $6.5 billion in Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds. USDA can include shellfish products in CFAP, and we strongly encourage the agency to allow aquaculture farmers to utilize this program.”

The Senators also ask the USDA to establish a short-term purchasing program for shellfish aquaculture products, including Chesapeake Bay oysters and clams, to help these businesses weather the storm. They write, “The shellfish aquaculture industry has been impacted significantly by the disruption in normal supply chains due to social distancing measures that shuttered many businesses essential to the marketing and sale of Chesapeake Bay shellfish aquaculture products. Nearly 70 percent of all seafood consumed in the United States is consumed at restaurants and hospitality venues. A survey completed March 23 - April 10, 2020 of coronavirus impacts to the aquaculture industry indicated that 84 percent of aquaculture businesses experienced sales losses associated with the virus. Further, 64 percent of operators expected their business to close by June 2020 without external intervention – a date fast approaching.” 

In addition to this letter, the Senators have previously written the Administration on the need to support Maryland and Virginia’s crab houses and fisheries, including through the release of H-2B visas and relief funds available through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Perdue,

We write today concerning the ongoing public health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 and the urgent need to support our nation’s food production industries, including the shellfish aquaculture industry. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability Act (CARES Act; Pub. L. 116–136) provides appropriations for relief to agricultural producers who have suffered economic harm due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the Chesapeake Bay region, the seafood industry provides more than $4.6 billion in economic impact and supports more than 30,000 jobs. The industry, including the shellfish aquaculture sector, has suffered significant economic harm due to supply chain disruptions. We request USDA provide support to the shellfish aquaculture industry by leveraging the $16 billion in Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) funding and tools available through the Agricultural Marketing Services (AMS) Section 32 purchasing authority. 

A total of $16 billion has been appropriated and allocated through CFAP to directly support agricultural producers impacted by the coronavirus. This includes $9.5 billion appropriated under Title I of Section B of the CARES Act and $6.5 billion in Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds. USDA can include shellfish products in CFAP, and we strongly encourage the agency to allow aquaculture farmers to utilize this program. 

Further, we request that USDA establish a short-term purchasing program for shellfish aquaculture products, including Chesapeake Bay oysters and clams, as part of AMS’s Section 32 authority. Market-ready shellfish, including oysters and clams, can be packaged into shelf-stable products that provide valuable nutrition to the American public.

The shellfish aquaculture industry has been impacted significantly by the disruption in normal supply chains due to social distancing measures that shuttered many businesses essential to the marketing and sale of Chesapeake Bay shellfish aquaculture products. Nearly 70 percent of all seafood consumed in the United States is consumed at restaurants and hospitality venues. A survey completed March 23 - April 10, 2020 of coronavirus impacts to the aquaculture industry indicated that 84 percent of aquaculture businesses experienced sales losses associated with the virus. Further, 64 percent of operators expected their business to close by June 2020 without external intervention – a date fast approaching.

Restrictions on restaurant operations are especially damaging to Chesapeake Bay oyster farmers, many of whom are small, family-owned businesses. As most sales and harvests of shellfish products occur in the spring, the inability to offload products have impacted shellfish growers’ ability to prepare operations for the next production season. 

We request that USDA include shellfish aquaculture products, including Chesapeake Bay oysters and clams, in relief programs established by Congress. This includes CFAP and AMS Section 32 food purchasing authority. These healthy, consumption-ready products are ideally positioned to aid USDA’s efforts to address food insecurity during this difficult time.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.

Signed,