The American Fisheries Advisory Committee (AFAC) was just recently passed and signed into law by President Joe Biden in May.
This committee of seafood industry experts was an original part of the Saltonstall Kennedy Act (SK) of 1956, where committee members were/are given the charge, in statute, to “promote and develop seafood products” with the goal of “increasing the free flow of domestic seafood products through commerce.”
Bruce Schactler is Global Food Aid Program director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
He also serves as the Marketing Committee chairman of United Fishermen of Alaska and is the founder and director of the National Seafood Marketing Coalition. He has commercially fished in Alaska for the past 50 years.
AFAC’s primary charge with the SK grant program, also in statute, is to design and conduct a grant program that includes the “… expansion of domestic and foreign markets for United States fishery products."
It is, therefore, suggested to the Senate Appropriations Committee that “… 15 percent of the SK transfer from USDA” is justified to provide for a more robust version of the traditional SK competitive grant program and to also provide for a sustained, multi-year, National Seafood Promotion program.
The requested number of 15 percent ($36 million (€36 million) based on 2021 import duties) is a minimal amount for such an effort, but it is a place to start to build the needed credibility with Congress that everything with AFAC and a new national seafood promotion is going along as it will expect.
It is also “minimal," based on the 1983 amendment to the SK Act that “requires” 60 percent of the transfer be used for the SK grant programs. This requirement is essentially ignored by Congress every year.
Coincidentally, or not, US Roger Senator Wicker of Mississippi introduced on Sept. 29 a bill that once again seeks to create the National Seafood Council. This Council seeks $25 million (€25 million) per year for five years (with no specific funding source) to promote the health and nutrition of eating seafood.
The Fish and Seafood Promotion Act was passed in 1986. It primarily included a process to assess groups of seafood producers to fund promotions relative to the species being assessed. Also included in the act was a limited try at a National Seafood Council that operated with questionable success for five years.
The entire process of that act has the very heavy hand of NOAA on it throughout, and was never accepted or used by the US seafood industry, even having been “re-tried” over and over every 10 years or so.
Senator Wicker and the hard push by a few supporters is right on schedule for trying to do it again.
By passing the American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act in May, a National Seafood Council has in actuality and charge been formed, effectively eliminating the need to attempt to form a competing (for funding and even messaging) entity that has essentially the same function and has never worked out for the industry.
After all advisory committees were “dissolved” by Congress in 1972, AFAC is back with all of its original authority and statutory funding source.
If the present push for a new National Seafood Council legislation is absolutely sincere in its desire to promote the health and nutrition benefits of seafood and to increase the consumption of seafood in the United States, the entire seafood system should refocus within the existing AFAC process.
AFAC is charged with interacting and consulting with the entire seafood industry, from the boat to the throat, to consider everything that may help with the expansion of domestic and foreign markets for United States fishery products. What could be more clear or straight forward?
Including the competitive SK grant program, a National Seafood Promotion program will be designed by the industry, including aquaculture, retail and foodservice as they work closely with the new American Fisheries Advisory Committee to take the message of seafood to the market.
Rather than taking the extended time, energy and money to try to pass new national legislation, entities such as NOAA's Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MAFAC), retailers, wholesalers, marketers, nutritionists, universities, processors, fishermen, exporters, importers, and consumers, should all get behind the newly reauthorized AFAC, and join AFAC and the broader US Seafood Industry in asking the Congressional appropriations process to fund the American Fisheries Advisory Committee to the extent sufficient for the traditional SK Grant program and a new and continuous National Seafood Promotion.
Everything is now in place, so let’s all simply let AFAC use its authority, its statutory funding source, and its broad, national representation to carry out the process of making it happen.