Trump directs aid to Maine lobster industry crushed by tariffs
President Trump ordered the Department of Agriculture to offer a lifeline to the struggling Maine lobster industry that has been hit hard by his trade policies with China.
Trump’s trade war with China devastated farmers in the Midwest, but it also evaporated Maine’s chief export market as escalating tariffs led China to place a 35 percent markup on lobster.
The late Wednesday order from Trump all but directs the Agriculture Department to extend a $30 billion farm bailout program to Maine’s commercial fishers. The program previously sent cash to corn, soybean, pig and other farmers, primarily in the Midwest, who Trump has courted in his reelection effort.
The move follows years of lobbying by Maine’s congressional delegation, which cited “severe financial difficulties due to unfair retaliatory tariffs” in a joint statement expressing support for the government aid.
“Better late than never,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) tweeted.
“We made it clear last year in a letter comparing our lobster industry to the farmers in the Midwest seeing relief in this tariff fallout. The first line was ‘Why not lobsters?’” King added in a statement to The Hill, noting that lobsters were one of the first items hit with Chinese tariffs.
“This is going to be a huge thing for the coast of Maine,” he said.
The financial relief could have political benefits as well, particularly for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is facing a tough reelection campaign in a contest that could determine the next Senate majority.
Trump’s assistance for Maine fisheries comes amid growing calls from Democrats to disburse coronavirus relief funds to commercial fishing businesses.
“Congress appropriated $300 million in the CARES Act” for commercial fisheries, House Natural Resources Committee Democrats wrote in a Thursday letter to Trump. “And as of today – three months later – not a single fisherman has received one cent.”
Trump has made several overtures to Maine voters recently, visiting the state earlier this month to reverse protections for an Obama-era marine monument. Trump has repeatedly claimed the reversal would help Maine lobstermen, but the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is located some 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Mass.
“It was my great honor to free up 5000 square miles of ocean off the coast of Maine. Enjoy!” Trump tweeted early Thursday.
Trump’s tariffs have rerouted much of the lobster business to Canada, crippling one of Maine’s largest industries.
The president has instead cast blame elsewhere.
“Pres. Obama destroyed the lobster and fishing industry in Maine. Now it’s back, bigger and better than anyone ever thought possible. Enjoy your ‘lobstering’ and fishing! Make lots of money!” Trump tweeted Wednesday night.
Lobster hauls in Maine have been largely on the rise since the mid-1980s, including a record-breaking year in 2013 followed by new highs in 2016.
Trump’s order, which calls lobstering the “crown jewel of America’s seafood industry,” faults China for the tariffs that rose to 25 percent in 2018 and then 35 percent the following year.
“China’s retaliatory assault on the American lobster industry was particularly aggressive,” Trump wrote, arguing the administration must “mitigate the effects of unfair retaliatory trade practices on this important industry.”
Maine’s delegation has pushed for relief for the industry since the tariffs began, seeking to protect what can be a lucrative but volatile business that are often comprised of two or three person fishing teams working off small boats.
“We have always been strong, steadfast advocates for resolving the trade barriers harming the lobster industry, which supports the livelihoods of thousands of Mainers, and have repeatedly pushed for actions to alleviate the economic challenges those employed in our seafood supply chain are experiencing,” Collins, King, and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) wrote in a statement when the aid was first announced.
Updated at 12:25 p.m.