News Clippings

At sea, under the eyes of cameras, fishermen work as the government monitors catch

May 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from Providence Journal, May 16, 2017

At Sea, Under the Eyes of Cameras, Fisherman Work as the Government Monitors Catch

By Alex Kuffner
Journal Staff Writer

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Chris Brown has grown used to the five video cameras that record every move he and his two crew members make aboard the Proud Mary.

Since installing the equipment in January on the 45-foot otter trawler, whenever Brown steams out of Galilee in search of flounder and other groundfish in the Atlantic Ocean waters off Rhode Island, the electronic monitoring system kicks on.

And as Brown engages the boat’s hydraulics to haul in its nets, the cameras track everything he and his crew catch, all the fish they keep and all the fish they discard over the side.

The cameras may seem intrusive, but then Brown has an easy answer when asked about them.

“I’d much rather have a camera overhead than an observer under foot,” he said.

Brown is one of three Rhode Island fishermen who have signed on to a program that is testing out electronic surveillance as an alternative to human monitors that the federal government requires to be on board one in every seven fishing trips in the Northeast in an effort to stamp out overfishing.

The new program being led by The Nature Conservancy offers the potential for closer observation of commercial fishing, enhancing compliance with quotas and deterring misreporting.

Its supporters say it also provides more accurate data that will lead to better science and better regulations, all with the aim of supporting a fishing industry that is sustainable for years to come.

“There’s a mismatch between what fishermen say they see on the water and what the science says,” said Christopher McGuire, marine program director with The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. “We’re trying to bridge that gap.”

Electronic monitoring on fishing boats is nothing new. It’s been in use in British Columbia, in Canada, for more than 15 years, was eventually adopted by American fisheries in the Pacific Northwest, and was tested by Cape Cod fishermen as far back as 2005.

The Nature Conservancy started experimenting with the technology in 2013 as it became apparent that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would stop paying for human at-sea monitors and would instead require fishermen to cover costs that on any given fishing trip can run up to $710 a day.

The group started out with a handful of boats in Maine and expanded the pilot program to Massachusetts last year after winning permission from NOAA Fisheries to replace human observers with the camera systems on a trial basis.

It expanded to Rhode Island this year after Brown, Rodman Sykes and John Dougherty, who all fish out of Galilee, expressed interest in participating. In total, 14 boats are now taking part and collecting data on every one of their trips.

That type of increase in the amount of information being submitted to the government could lead to a better system of quotas, John Bullard, regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries, has said.

“So while at-sea monitoring is a cost, [electronic monitoring] could be an investment,” he said in a recent statement.

Mike Russo, a Provincetown fisherman who joined the trial program last year, goes a step further, saying that video evidence will prove his contention that fish stocks are in better shape than the government estimates.

“The sooner you have 100 percent accountability, the sooner quotas go up,” Russo said. “It takes the uncertainty out of everything.”

But not everyone has embraced electronic monitoring. Some fishermen, already tired of tighter regulation of their industry, have bucked against the “Big Brother” aspect of being recorded around the clock. Others are resistant because they may underreport the amount of fish they discard that exceeds their quotas, said McGuire.

There are also questions about the effectiveness of the technology itself. The fisheries on the West Coast where electronic monitoring has been successful generally have few species. In New England, there are many more and some are difficult to tell apart, said Anna Malek Mercer, executive director of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation, an industry-funded group based at the University of Rhode Island that has not taken a position on electronic monitoring.

In the first couple of years of The Nature Conservancy program, accuracy was an issue, with sometimes sizable differences in discards reported using the video monitoring system versus human observers. But as the system has been refined, those differences have shrunk.

McGuire is working with scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on fish recognition software that could improve accuracy and also reduce one of the main cost drivers of the electronic system — the amount of time it takes reviewers to go through all the data that’s collected from the boats and mailed to them on hard drives.

As it stands, installing an electronic system costs up to $8,000 and reviewing an average trip is an additional $300 or so, all paid for under the test program by The Nature Conservancy. Those costs will come down as more improvements are made, McGuire argues.

“But the cost of human observers will never go down,” he said. “It will be the same, or more.”

On a recent afternoon, Brown showed U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse around the Proud Mary. He explained how the system works, and Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who has sponsored legislation to enhance ocean protections, said he would look into allocating funds for expanding electronic monitoring.

The new system could allow real-time data review, an antidote, said Brown, to the current regulatory regime that can be too reliant on outdated information on fish abundance. That is especially important in an era of climate change as ocean temperatures rise and more warm-water species move into Northeast waters.

“In order to make it as an industry, we have to inform scientists, so they can make a change immediately and say, ’Go get ’em,’” said Brown, who is president of the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association and executive director of Seafood Harvesters of America.

He knows the opposition to increased monitoring is strong, but he hopes to win a few converts.

“The older you get, you worry about your legacy,” said Brown, who is 59 and has been a commercial fisherman since 1978. “You want to be judged favorably by what you leave behind.”

akuffner@providencejournal.com / (401) 277-7457

Harvest Seafood Responsibly

December 13, 2016 - Published in News Clippings

Editorial from the Charleston Post and Courier, December 3, 2016

Harvest Seafood Responsibly

You’d think that the mission of an organization called Seafood Harvesters of America would be to support harvesting seafood. And you’d be right — with a caveat.

The mission is to support fishing sustainably, so that future generations will be able to fish, too.

It will take some effort. For hundreds of years the oceans have provided bounteous seafood — more than enough to satisfy the appetites of commercial and recreational fishermen. So when some species became too sparse and the government imposed limits on them, fishermen bristled.

Still, numerous success stories can be told of species that were in jeopardy being resurrected. And that trend inspired commercial fishermen from the East Coast, West Coast and the Gulf of Mexico to form Seafood Harvesters. The organization recently had a membership meeting in Charleston.

Several of the organization’s leaders, all longtime fishermen, told us that commercial boats can make plenty of money and do their part to keep catches sustainable.

One tactic the organization supports is to allow fishing of vulnerable species year-round, but to monitor the catch carefully and to prevent fishing in spawning preserves.

Monitoring can be done electronically to diminish the temptation for fishermen to under-report their catches. Seafood Harvesters would like to make monitoring more cost-effective to use.

California fishermen could be an inspiration for others. In 2010 a number of rockfish species were in peril because of over-fishing. Reasonable limits were imposed, and they have since rebounded fully.

Seafood Harvesters of America is made up of fishermen, not scientists. But its members have determined that the best way to manage fisheries for the present — and the future — is to be conservationists too and to implement policies that are based on sound science. They have found that it is financially and physically worth modifying their habits as necessary.

The organization wants young people to fish, and believes that they will understand and embrace the need for conservation.

It says people don’t have the right to fish. It is a privilege, and it comes with an obligation: Do no harm.

“You don’t inherit the ocean from your father, you borrow it from your grandchildren,” said Rhode Island fisherman Christopher Brown, president of the organization.

Getting fisherman to recognize the necessity of a sustainable approach can be a challenge.

But it is, as Mr. Brown said, “a matter of enlightened self-interest.”

In other words, if it’s vital for the fish, it’s vital for the fishermen.

Op-Ed: Red Snapper Limits Help Louisiana’s Restaurants and Economy

February 8, 2016 - Published in News Clippings

Brett Veerhusen, Executive Director of the Seafood Harvesters of America, and Chef Haley Bittermann of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group co-authored an op-ed in The Times-Picayune on the benefits of federal fishery management for red snapper.

“Since 2000, more than 37 overfished populations nationwide have been rebuilt to sustainable levels, and 91 percent of U.S. fishery stocks are not experiencing overfishing. Gulf red snapper — one of America’s most prized food fish — is caught predominantly by small, family-owned commercial fishing businesses in the Gulf of Mexico. Before the MSA, years of chronic overfishing and mismanagement depleted its stock. Thanks to a strong MSA, the red snapper was saved and its recovery continues.”

Read the full op-ed here.

 

Stand with the Magnuson-Stevens Act

January 13, 2016 - Published in News Clippings

This year, the Seafood Harvesters of America are proud to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act by urging Congress to continue supporting this landmark legislation. The Magnuson-Stevens Act is working and significant reforms are unnecessary. Our ad in the current issue of National Fisherman says it best. Congress, stand with what works. Stand with commercial fishermen and the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

 

magnusonstevens_nationalfisherman

Published in the February 2016 edition of National Fisherman.

Cordova District Fishermen United Joins the Seafood Harvesters of America

September 14, 2015 - Published in News Clippings

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
DATE: September 14, 2015

Cordova District Fishermen United Joins the Seafood Harvesters of America

Alaska Group and DC Organization Unite to Amplify Commercial Fishermen’s Voices

Washington, DC – The Seafood Harvesters of America, an association now representing 17 commercial fishing organizations coast-to-coast, is excited to welcome their newest member, Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU). A multi-gear organization, CDFU is a non-profit that plays an integral role in the preservation, promotion, and protection of commercial fishing in Alaska.

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Harvesters Statement on the Passing of Vice President John Schmidt

September 10, 2015 - Published in News Clippings

The Seafood Harvesters of America wish to extend our deepest condolences to the family of John Schmidt, who suddenly passed away on Monday. A devoted family man and a life-long commercial fisherman, John served our organization as Vice President, and as a Board member of the Gulf Fishermen’s Association. John was a founding member of the Harvesters, and was involved with the establishment of the organization.

Years ago, John turned his passion for fishing into a successful career – leading a thirteen-crew fishing business that catches grouper and red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. For John, fishing was more than a job. He had a strong passion to provide Americans with genuine, sustainable American seafood.

John’s role at the Harvesters allowed him to speak on behalf of commercial fishermen on issues such as accountability, stewardship, cooperation and the importance of maintaining access to the 97% of Americans who rely on commercial fishermen for their seafood. He was, undoubtedly, a dedicated and tireless voice for our organization. Today, we offer our thoughts, prayers, and enduring gratitude to everyone who knew and loved him.

His obituary can be found here: http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/1162702/Schmidt-John.php

 

John Schmidt

 

Letter to President Obama

September 1, 2015 - Published in News Clippings

Ahead of President Obama’s three-day trip to Alaska, Executive Director, Brett Veerhusen, sent a letter to the Administration on behalf of the Harvesters. Brett commended the President for sitting down with commercial fishermen during the trip, and urged Mr. Obama to address the important issues affecting commercial fishermen around the country. You can view the letter here.

 

August 31, 2015

The Honorable Barack Obama
President
The United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Mr. President,

The Seafood Harvesters of America (the Harvesters) represents 17 commercial fishing organizations from Alaska, to the Gulf of Mexico and New England. As its Executive Director, a life-long Alaskan fisherman, Bristol Bay fisherman, and the son of a man who has fished for 45 years in Alaskan waters, I welcome you to this great state.

The Harvesters applauds you for choosing to sit down with real, everyday Alaskan commercial fishermen who nobly harvest an American public resource. We urge you to take this opportunity to speak to the issues of importance that are essential to the livelihoods of commercial fishermen in Alaska and the nation.

We are writing to ask that you use your trip to Alaska, and your meeting with commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay, to send a strong message about how the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) is working for this nation. Alaskans have demonstrated the audacity to succeed in the presence of all the uncertainties associated with climate change. We do so as an industry shielded by a strong MSA, which guides a public, science-based decision-making process.

The Harvesters agree with your Administration that the MSA reauthorization needs minimal changes. While we are amenable to some minor changes, we are calling on lawmakers and your Administration to keep the MSA largely intact. Mr. President, one of our biggest concerns is legislative attempts to allow individual states to takeover species management in federal waters, which would set a dangerous precedent that could unravel the responsible management of America’s fisheries. Thank you for your tireless support of this time – and climate – tested document. U.S. fishery management is a beacon of prosperity within global fisheries.

The global economic environment that our products compete in is now protected through the establishment of your Task Force to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. By importing seafood, the U.S. imports the ethics and ethos of the country of origin’s fishing practices. As a world leader in sustainable fishery management, American consumers demand our imported seafood to be of the same ethics and ethos that American fishermen harvest. We commend the Task Force for recognizing sustainable fisheries as an enormous benefit to ocean stakeholders.

Additionally, we ask that the Seafood Harvesters of America have a seat at the table in future discussions regarding marine monuments and protected areas. It is critically important that these initiatives are locally driven and focus on best available science rather than politics. We look forward to working with your Administration to ensure that we protect our delicate ocean resources and our American fishing economy into the future.

Millions of people – grocery patrons, restaurant owners, and consumers nationwide – rely on commercial fisheries to help get their dinner from ocean to plate. In 2012 alone, Americans consumed 4.5 billion pounds of seafood, which added 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs to our nation’s economy. Seafood Harvesters of America is the voice for our country’s 190-foot trawlers as well as the 30-foot hook and line fishermen and are working hard to ensure the food security of our great nation remains sustainable and thriving.

With the support of your Administration and policy makers in Washington D.C., salmon, crab, pollock and snapper – to name just a few – will remain part of a complete American dinner.

Sincerely,

Brett Veerhusen
Executive Director
Seafood Harvesters of America

 

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