In an effort to provide fishermen on opposite coasts with the relief they need, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Angus King, I-Maine, have introduced bipartisan legislation to expand financial support to America’s fishing communities. The effort reinforces coast-to-coast connections, as the State of Maine and Alaska alike have many small family businesses that make the gear, build, and maintain productions of seafood, and distribute both state’s local fish all around the world.
The Fishing Industry Credit Enhancement Act would allow businesses that have been providing direct assistance to fishing operations, such as gear production and cold storage, to access Farm Credit services. The bill’s passing would provide these businesses with access to the same loans from the Farm Credit System (FCS), which is a network of lending institutions that provides credit to the agriculture, logging, and fishing industries.
Founded in 1916 to help farmers who historically struggled to access reliable credit, FCS became wholly owned by their farmer-borrowers in 1968 when all government capital was repaid.
The Farm Credit Act (FCA) of 1971 gave banks and associations the ability to become more flexible in lending to production and agriculture, but there were still limitations with who could get those loans. When the new bipartisan legislation was announced, Senator King mentioned that he hoped they’d be able to get the bill passed, as the issues being raised by his constituents are in many ways connected to this development. He provided further insights around this issue in an exclusive interview with NF.
“The problem back in 1971 was that the bill expanded to all businesses that served agriculture, but it didn’t apply to all businesses that serve fishermen and their needs,” Senator King told National Fisherman. “This is a long overdue change to the bill, and one that will benefit all associated that keep the U.S. commercial fishing industry alive.”
The Fishing Industry Credit Enhancement Act would allow fishing-support businesses to access the loans of the Farm Credit System that similar small businesses working with livestock and crop farmers. These loans are major economic drivers for rural communities, helping businesses invest in new expansions, hire more workers, or modernize operations.
The issues that the new bill would sort out go back decades. By the early 1970s and 1980s, FCS grew rapidly with the loan volume topping over $80 billion when farmers and fishermen were pushing to expand their businesses through the FCA. The Farm Credit Act has helped fishermen and farmers sustain their businesses within the United States, but the Fishing Industry Credit Enhancement Act will powerfully expand the FCA to help the individuals and businesses that define the entire fishing community.
“It’s important for policy to recognize that the fishing industry is more than just the fishermen themselves,” Senator King stated. “It’s the associated businesses that support them as well, and that is who we are directing these changes to.”
Senator Murkowski and Senator King have brought attention to the businesses that are crucial to keeping the fishermen working on the water such as trap builders, seafood processors, and gear workers. The fishing community is a huge part of the heritage of both Alaska and Maine, and Senator Murkowski and Senator King believe that providing more support to those involved within all moving parts of the fishing industry will keep our working waterfronts alive and thriving for years to come.
“Senator Murkowski and I are leading this because of our direct involvement with fisheries,” Senator King continued. “Fishing is one of our common interests, and we both recognize the importance of the fishing industry within the states we represent. The associated businesses within the fishing industry should have access to funding through the FCA, just like associated agriculture businesses have since 1971. I consider this a correction of an oversight.”
That correction is one that Farm Credit Council President and CEO Todd Van Hoose also recognizes. He mentioned that fishing-related businesses need access to competitive financing to maintain service to the U.S. fishing industry. The FCS has provided almost a million loans totaling more than $373 billion to farmers, ranchers, fishermen, aquatic producers, and more, underscore the bottom-line value that it represents.
Commercial fishing operators are being impacted by the same pressures as the U.S. domestic fishing industry. The Fishing Industry Credit Enhancement Act is designed to address those pressures in ways that connect to the past of the industry but are also inherently linked to its’ future.