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Originally published Friday, August 22, 2014 at 5:33 PM

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Local seafood processors say ban Russian imports

Russia’s embargo on food imports earlier this month has prompted major seafood processors in Washington and Alaska along with Bering Sea crabbers to call on the U.S. government to ban Russian seafood imports to the U.S.

Seattle Times business reporter

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In response to Russia’s embargo on food imports earlier this month, a group of major Alaska and Washington seafood processors are calling on the U.S. government to enact a ban on Russian seafood imports to the U.S.

“We did not start this fight, and we hope the Russians will call off their embargo,” said Terry Shaff, president and CEO of Redmond-based UniSea, in a statement. “A U.S. ban will signal to President Putin that America will not sit idly by while Russia disregards international law and tries to coerce the world into ignoring its transgressions through retaliatory actions.”

Russia’s Aug. 7 embargo on fish, beef, pork, poultry, fruit, vegetables and dairy products was not only against the U.S. but also Canada, Australia, Norway and the European Union. The ban was in retaliation for multiple sanctions placed on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.

The seafood processors endorsing the ban on Russian seafood include Icicle Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, UniSea, Alaska General Seafoods, Alyeska Seafoods, Westward Seafoods and North Pacific Seafoods, along with members of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

“Why should we leave our markets open to Russia if they close their markets to us?” said Mark Palmer, president and CEO of Ocean Beauty Seafoods, in an interview. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

The nine U.S. seafood processors and the crabbers association are all headquartered in and around Seattle, but the majority of the fishing takes place in Alaska.

Alaska’s entire seafood market is worth $6 billion, according to the statement.

U.S. exporters shipped $1.3 billion worth of food and agricultural products to Russia in fiscal year 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More than $86.5 million of that was from U.S. seafood, including shrimp, hake, sole and sardines, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s office of science and technology. The majority — $46.4 million — was salmon roe, used for Russian red caviar.

In turn, the U.S. imported more than $320 million in Russian seafood, including king, snow and Dungeness crab, and frozen and fresh salmon and pollock. The king and snow crab made up more than $220 million of those imports.

The seafood companies are seeking support for the ban on Russian seafood from the Alaska congressional delegation as well as from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. They also seek diplomatic efforts to immediately end Russia’s ban on U.S. seafood products, according to the statement.

Offices of the trade representative and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Our fishermen rely on the value of the fish. If we have a market that has been closed, it can have an adverse affect ... Fishermen get lower prices,” Palmer said. “We owe it to our fleet and all the communities up there to fight this fight.”

Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or On Twitter @coralgarnick

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