BOSTON — Members of the all-Democratic Massachusetts congressional delegation are pushing to include more East Coast seafood in purchasing agreements funded by the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

They applauded a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision last week to include Atlantic seafood in so-called Section 32 program food purchases made available in part by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act approved in late March.

Massachusetts officials said the federal program has historically overlooked East Coast seafood, but has agreed to purchase $20 million in Atlantic haddock, pollock, and redfish to help East Coast seafood producers.

Congressman William Keating said the purchases "will not only help to support our fishing industry during these trying times, but will also provide highly nutritious, sustainable food for families in need across the nation."

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton added, "Fishermen are hurting. Things were already tough because of the trade war and they got a lot tougher when restaurants closed because of the pandemic. Government's strength is measured by its ability to serve the people it represents. I hope this brings new business and peace of mind to America's fishermen."

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and about two dozen of their colleagues are pressing for more fishing industry aid in the next potential COVID-19 relief law. In a letter to Senate leaders, the senators wrote that while many agricultural sectors "have seen a significant increase in grocery sales, seafood has been left out of that economic upside, as stores have cut back on offerings."

Citing reports that many of the nation's fisheries lost 95 percent of their sales, the senators said efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 have led to a "near total shutdown" of restaurants and outlets that serve fresh seafood and the supply chain of fishermen and seafood processors has been "decimated.

The senators asked that the next relief bill include at least $2 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's seafood purchases and authorization for the purchased products to be distributed to local, state, and national non-profits on the frontlines of hunger relief efforts.

"The seafood industry is currently facing an unprecedented collapse in demand because of the novel coronavirus," the senators wrote in their letter. "We urge you to facilitate the government purchase of seafood products that would both ensure stability in this key sector and provide healthy, domestically produced food for Americans.

Material from the Associated Press and State House News Service was used in this report.

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