GLOUCESTER — The U.S. trade war with China has turned into a war of another kind, as representatives at the state and federal levels are taking aim at tariffs that have rocked several sectors of the New England seafood industry.
In Washington, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Democratic candidate for president, filed legislation to expand disaster relief to fisheries — such as the New England lobster industry — harmed by retaliatory tariffs that have choked off lucrative trade with China.
The bill calls for amending the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act "to require NOAA to evaluate the impacts of duties imposed on American seafood" and to ultimately allow the federal Department of Commerce to consider the impact of trade wars on the fishing industry as a means of providing disaster relief.
A similar measure was filed in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden, the senior senator from Oregon.
"The president's lack of strategy and the uncertainty in our local economy is the perfect storm for local fishermen who are already doing more with less," Moulton said in a statement. "Until the president ends his misguided trade war, Congress should step up and provide some relief."
In Boston, state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester pushed for a hearing in Gloucester by a joint committee of the Massachusetts Legislature on the Trump administration's trade policies with China "and its effects on the Massachusetts lobster industry and corresponding ports."
Overall U.S. lobster imports to China reached $142.4 million in 2017 before sliding 37% in the last half of 2018 after China imposed the 25% retaliatory tariff. Specific numbers on Massachusetts lobster exports to China were unavailable.
Massachusetts as a whole boasts the nation's second-largest lobster harvest after Maine, about 11% of the U.S. total. Gloucester is the state's No. 1 lobstering port, with Rockport one of the top 5.
In a letter to the leadership of the Joint Committee on Export Development, Ferrante said the 32% tariffs levied on U.S. lobsters headed for China have hurt Bay State lobster harvesters and processors, with the damage stretching to other sectors of the state's seafood economy.
"The effects of the Trump administration's trade war have sent ripples across our community, from the lobstermen to the wholesalers to the restaurants and consumers," Ferrante wrote in a letter to the committee leadership, which includes Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester. "Many in the industry do not believe they will outlast these tariffs."
Ferrante extended the argument to potentially providing financial assistance to the lobster industry, drawing parallels with the land-based agricultural industry.
"Just as farmers nationwide have received compensation to alleviate the economic pain caused by this trade war, so too should those who harvest the ocean," Ferrante wrote.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.