At Commerce Subcommittee Hearing
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, discussed issues affecting Maine’s lobster industry at a Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. The Subcommittee questioned fisheries and trade officials on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget request.
During the hearing, Senator Collins questioned NOAA and International Trade Administration officials on conservation and trade issues that have been continuing to harm Maine’s lobster industry. The first inquiry involved a situation that she discussed with a group of lobstermen Downeast at the recent annual Fishermen’s Forum in Rockport.
“There is a long running territorial dispute between the United States and Canada pertaining to waters around Machias Seal Island that sits approximately ten miles off the coast of Maine, which is referred to as the Gray Zone. Consequently, each country manages their lobster and other fisheries in that area through separate and often conflicting regulations,” said Senator Collins. “The implications of these regulatory discrepancies are very concerning and very unfair to Maine’s lobstermen.”
Lobstermen who work in the Gray Zone are growing increasingly frustrated that their Canadian counterparts who fish in the same areas are not required to follow the same regulations, and thus are undermining American protections and threatening the sustainability of the stock. For generations, Maine lobstermen have marked the tails of egg-bearing females they catch with a v-notch and returned them to the water, allowing them to lay eggs, grow larger, and reproduce in future years. Maine lobstermen also abide by a maximum size limit, tossing back oversized lobsters in order to keep the stock strong. Because Canada does not impose such conservation measures on its fisheries, this means a v-notched or oversized lobster tossed back by a Maine lobstermen can be caught by a Canadian lobstermen yards away and brought to market.
In response to Senator Collins’ concerns about this situation, Dr. Neil Jacobs, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, committed to working with Senator Collins to explore the possibility of developing a fisheries agreement between the U.S. and Canada that would provide for cooperative management of the Gray Zone.
Senator Collins also discussed the importance of expeditiously resolving the international trade barriers that are continuing to constrain Maine seafood exports. Last summer, China levied a 25 percent import tariff on U.S. lobster. Before the tariff, China was the second largest importer of U.S. lobster, purchasing $128.5 million in product in 2017. According to the Maine International Trade Center, Maine lobster exports to China were up 169 percent for the first six months of 2018 over the previous year. These promising trends gave U.S. lobster dealers every indication that China would continue to be a robust market opportunity, but exports have plummeted under the new tariffs.
“The retaliatory tariff of 25 percent that China has levied on U.S. lobster has been very detrimental to the industry,” said Senator Collins. “What is the status of the trade talks with China, and what hope can you provide to my lobster exporters who are struggling day in and day out, having lost that very lucrative market to our Canadian neighbors?”
“I'm very sympathetic to what you're saying. I can assure you that we are doing everything possible to resolve the problems with China and to resolve the trade disagreements as quickly as possible,” responded Gil Kaplan, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade. “I think we’ve been making progress… and we are optimistic about an agreement… There are many issues we have to resolve but we are working nonstop to try to bring this dispute to a conclusion.”
Last month, Senator Collins attended the Maine Fishermen’s Forum Reception and Dinner, where she spoke with fishermen, leadership from the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and the NE Fishery Management Council, and commercial stakeholders about Maine’s lobster and fishing industry.
Senator Collins has been a vocal advocate for the lobster and fishing industry and has been working with the Maine Delegation to remove the unfair and harmful tariff on U.S. lobster exports to China. In March, the Maine Delegation wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, calling on him to make the lobster industry a priority in the ongoing trade negotiations with the Chinese government.