Making the Case for Fishermen in the Farm Bill
Last week, Congresswoman Pingree, along with her colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee, including Chairman GT Thompson of Pennsylvania, hosted Maine farmers and interested parties at Freeport High School to receive input on the 2023 Farm Bill. The bill is passed once every 5 years and determines how the federal government prioritizes domestic food policy. Although it was originally introduced in 1933 for the benefit of the agricultural industry, the bill has developed into a comprehensive amalgamation of bills that support all sectors of the food economy. The bill is extensive, from nutrition to broadband access. It includes 12 subsections and has great influence on how the country buys, produces, and manages national food production. Within the bill there are USDA provisions that provide grants to young farmers as marketing programs that could open and extend access and opportunity to fishermen, seafood processors, and other participants in the industry. It is a wonderful legislative opportunity to expose the fishing industry to the numerous federal benefits that farmers and food producers enjoy.
Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association sent its policy coordinator Emily Coffin to speak on behalf of fishermen, MCFA, and organizations we work with in the Fishing Community Coalition (FCC). The coalition represents over 1,000 small-boat fishermen from Maine to Alaska to promote stewardship and thriving commercial fisheries and collaborate on national policy initiatives. FCC is working to insert the seafood industry into the Farm Bill so that fishermen and fishing communities can access benefits that the federal government provides to farmers in the Farm Bill. Emily provided a two minute testimony that is as follows:
"Hello, my name is Emily Coffin with the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. We are an industry-founded non-profit supporting community-based commercial fishermen. Thank you, Chairman Thompson, Congresswoman Pingree and members of the Committee, for the opportunity to share our Farm Bill priorities. I also want to thank the other speakers for sharing their concerns because after all, this is a food system we are in. I’m a commercial fisherman, my dad is a commercial fisherman and as a food producer, I’m looking for your support.
We believe that domestic wild-caught seafood from small-scale producers should be more fully integrated into the U.S. food system, for the sake of food security, climate resilience, and small business survival. Here is how you can help:
The Fishing Industry Credit Enhancement Act in the Farm Bill would provide fishermen with access to farm credit programs. Younger fishermen like me need low-cost capital more than ever as financial barriers to entry keep rising. I’m 23 and I haven’t found it financially advantageous to be on a lobster boat full-time. Instead, I got a job in policy and I’m up here with a microphone. But I want fishing to be a path for others.
Second, we ask that you include provisions of the Domestic Seafood Production Act in the Farm Bill that revitalize working waterfronts by improving domestic seafood processing capacity for small-boat and independent fishermen.
I want to thank Congresswoman Pingree, for your support of increased working waterfront funding and new programs to prevent gentrification, enhance climate resilience, and expand opportunities for community-based fishing and seafood businesses.
Third, Congress can use the Farm Bill to mandate that USDA spread Section 32 procurement beyond just the largest players. This would bring economic benefit to smaller-scale fishing communities in Maine and keep Section 32 dollars in communities.
MCFA has shared proposed Farm Bill language with your staff, Congresswoman Pingree, to clarify that Local Agricultural Marketing Program, or LAMP, grants should be accessible to US commercial fishing and seafood businesses. Unfortunately, the USDA has kept fisheries out of LAMP grants in many instances despite the law clearly allowing us to participate. Let's make these programs accessible by default.
Thank you so much for your consideration of these suggestions. Improving access, infrastructure, and markets for fishermen and seafood businesses is a true win-win for the nation. I hope that while you’re in Maine you get to enjoy the delicious seafood we Mainer’s are so proud of."