Mississippi Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker have asserted that catfish producers in Mississippi and other states are being harmed by the U.S. Department of Commerce not doing enough to stem a flood of imported fish products.

Cochran and Wicker have signed a letter to acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank urging her to enforce an antidumping order against frozen fillets from Vietnam. The correspondence, signed by eight senators, is critical of the Commerce Department’s handling of the Vietnamese frozen fillet antidumping case and the resulting “surge in the volume of low-priced imports.”

“The precipitous decline of the American catfish industry can be directly linked to Commerce Department actions that have allowed the U.S. market to be flooded with imported alternatives. Mississippi catfish producers and the people they employ deserve fair treatment from this administration. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case right now,” Cochran said.

“The catfish industry is an important part of Mississippi’s economy, and the Commerce Department should use all available tools to prevent unfair imports,” said Wicker. “American producers deserve to compete on a level playing field.”

The letter to Blank points out that Vietnamese imports have tripled since 2008 and now account for more than 75 percent of the U.S. market. The Senators point to USDA statistics that indicate the market share maintained by U.S. catfish producers has dropped from 80 percent to 20 percent since an antidumping case was filed.  They also cited other evidence, including:

  • In 2007, U.S. catfish farming covered almost 164,000 water acres; by January 2013, acreage totaled only 83,020 water acres.
  • In 2007, U.S. catfish processors sold about 104 million pounds of frozen fillets; by 2012 that number had dwindled to just over 67 million pounds, a more than 35 percent decline.

“This decline correlates directly with the change in the Commerce Department’s approach in the antidumping case and the resulting flood of low-priced Vietnamese imports.  Unfortunately, these imports are impacting the most vulnerable members of our society.  Many catfish processors, which can be the largest employers in their community, operate in regions suffering from poverty and unemployment rates well above the national average,”the Senators wrote.

“U.S. trade laws enjoy the strong support of Congress because they serve the invaluable role of ensuring a level playing field for U.S. producers and workers who must compete in markets that benefit from the most commercially open borders in the world.  Without the strong enforcement of these trade laws, American companies would face a significant disadvantage when competing with unfairly subsidized or dumped imports,”the letter states. “We urge you to ensure that the Commerce Department vigorously enforces the antidumping order against frozen fish fillets from Vietnam.”

The letter was organized by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and was also signed by Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Louisiana Sen. Mark Vitter.