A lobster boat peeks from behind a stack of traps on the Portland waterfront in this 2019 file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Richard Fordyce is the Farm Service Agency administrator and a fourth-generation farmer from Bethany, Missouri. He is a former director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

When President Donald Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asked me to come to Washington to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, I jumped at the chance to lead the organization that directly helps farmers. Indeed, as a fourth-generation farmer from northwest Missouri, I’ve taken advantage of that assistance, visiting my county FSA office on more than a few occasions to file acreage reports, apply for Farm Bill programs or sign up for conservation programs. But I never thought to go there to get help with fishing!

The agency, however, now is doing just that with the launch in September of the Seafood Trade Relief Program (STRP) for commercial fishermen hurt by retaliatory foreign tariffs on their products and by disruptions in their export markets. The imposition of tariffs on and non-tariff barriers to U.S. goods were reactions to the president’s efforts to get our trading partners to play by the rules and practice freer and fairer trade.

The program, which has about $530 million available from the FSA-administered Commodity Credit Corporation and which is similar to the Market Facilitation Program for farmers and ranchers, is another trade-relief measure the president asked USDA to implement to help America’s hard-working women and men who produce the food, fuel, feed and fiber on which we all depend.

It pays U.S. commercial fishermen who hold a valid federal or state license or permit for 19 seafood species, including flounder, lobster, salmon and tuna, caught in U.S. waters. (Species raised in controlled environments, except for geoduck and salmon, are not eligible for the program.) To be eligible, a fisherman’s catch must be sold or transferred to a permitted or licensed seafood dealer or processed at sea and sold by the fisherman. Payment rates per pound of eligible species were determined based on poundage landed in 2019 multiplied by the per-pound loss for each species from trade disruptions and tariffs.

The program was established and implemented and applications are being processed very quickly thanks to the hard work and dedication of the staff in USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation mission area, of which FSA is a part. Said one Northeast fisherman, “I don’t believe I have ever seen a government agency work so efficiently.”

In fact, in a little more than a month, we’ve taken in more than 7,000 applications and paid out nearly $63 million. (Fishermen of eligible species may sign up for the relief program until Dec. 14, through their local USDA Service Center. To apply for and for more information on the program, including a list of eligible species, visit farmers.gov/seafood.)

Although the program can’t make fishermen whole, the program is providing some needed income during these challenging times. (In May, the Commerce Department provided $300 million in fisheries assistance under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.)

It’s important that we get trade deals that boost exports of our agricultural and fisheries products, and President Donald Trump has been working for almost four years toward that end. He knows his efforts provoked some countries to unjustifiably impose tariffs on U.S. goods, causing economic pain for our farmers, ranchers and fishermen. The U.S. seafood industry, for example, is estimated to have lost 10 percent of its exports since reaching a peak of $5.6 billion of foreign shipments in 2017; exports to China, which placed a 25 percent tariff on American seafood, dropped by 33 percent. That’s why the president directed USDA to implement the seafood and market facilitation programs.

My FSA team and I are proud that we can bring these programs to America’s food producers, following through on the president’s words to farmers a couple of years ago: “We’ve got your back.”