Trident Seafoods CEO Joe Bundrant said Saturday that the US ban on Russian seafood imports could include products reprocessed in China, in what would be a severe blow for Russian pollock and cod processors.
"I do think it could happen," Bundrant told IntraFish. "How it is going to be enforced in this unregulated business is the question."
President Joe Biden's announcement Friday that imports of Russian seafood will be banned sent shockwaves through the industry, even though it was expected it would be one of the casualties of Putin's unprovoked invasions of Ukraine.
At stake in the ban is $1.2 billion (€1 billion) in seafood imports from Russia.
Of that figure, which was for all of 2021, crab accounted for the largest portion, with frozen snow crab and frozen red king crab accounting for over $900 million (€796 million).
That will sting, particularly crab importers, who had a lucrative flow of king crab this year in particular, given that Alaska's king crab fishery was closed.
But for importers of Russian cod and pollock, it's not as bad as it could be, at least for now.
The United States imported $59.9 million worth of groundfish directly from Russia last year, mostly cod. The overall volume was just over 12,000 metric tons. That amount wouldn't go very far in servicing many customers, but we know the volumes of Russian-origin fish used in US products is sizeable.
That's because most of America's imported Russian whitefish takes a detour via China.
The majority of Russia's pollock and cod catch is headed and gutted (H&G), frozen, and sent to Chinese processors, where it is thawed, cut into fillets, re-frozen and shipped to European and US markets.
That's why even though virtually no cod or pollock is harvested by Chinese vessels, the country sends six times as much cod and pollock as Russia, worth $313.1 million.
Though there is no specific import data that separates out the origin of the fish, most of America's cod and pollock catch is processed into fillet blocks on the vessel.
US Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both know this well, and in introducing their bill to ban seafood imports prior to Biden's announcement, it's likely they would have mentioned this.
The fact that Biden particularly called out seafood is telling, and indicates that both senators had the White House's ear on the issue.