News

Seafood Harvesters of America: Letter to Chairman Dan Sullivan, Senate Commerce Committee

August 23, 2017 - Published in News Releases

The Honorable Dan Sullivan
Chairman, Senate Commerce Committee
702 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Chairman Sullivan,

On behalf of the Seafood Harvesters of America and our Alaskan members, I write to express our support for your efforts to modernize and strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), while maintaining the Act’s core conservation provisions and accountability standards upon which the long- term viability of our fisheries depend.

The Harvesters represent an array of commercial fishing organizations and fishermen across Alaska and the nation, including those who use pots to crab in the Bering Sea, those who seine for Copper River salmon and those who trawl for Pollock or use longlines to catch black cod in the Gulf of Alaska. While we may use different gear and target different species, we all have in common a desire and commitment to manage our fisheries sustainably. The Harvesters bring together fishermen from across the nation to learn from each other’s successes, as well as our failures, and collectively champion policies to ensure that we have well-managed fisheries. Our members are privileged to go to sea every day, bringing to market healthy, domestic, sustainable seafood.

As you know, The United States has one of the most successful fishery management systems in the world, with almost 500 federally managed stocks producing almost 10 billion pounds of seafood valued at over $5 billion annually direct to fishermen. Our success in managing this renewable resource is based on the MSA’s regional management approach, rooted in sound science. The short- term sacrifices that our industry made to adhere to annual catch limits have yielded greater long- term benefits of rebuilt stocks that we are enjoying today.

Through the accountability standards and conservation mandates in the MSA, our fisheries have improved dramatically as the commercial fishing industry has become more responsible, transparent and efficient. In Alaska, we have reversed the culture of disregard and led the nation in sustainable managed fisheries from the Bering Sea, to Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound, on down to the Dixon Entrance. We have found a better way to fish through limited access privilege programs that have ended the race to fish and enabled more flexible harvesting, allowing for more complete yields of target species, reducing bycatch and discards and avoiding catch of prohibited species. These programs have allowed us to be vested caretakers of the resource while at the same time offering financial stability and increased safety. Consequently, we support Assistant Administrator Chris Oliver’s recent testimony before your committee that “Limited Access Privilege Programs, while not appropriate for all fisheries, are an important tool in our collective tool box, and the current Act allows for development of such programs to be tailored to the specific needs of each fishery.”

While Alaska has the best managed fisheries in the world, there is still room for improvement. We believe that the modernization and streamlining of fishery information systems is critical to provide more timely science for better management decisions. Unfortunately, existing systems are built using technology and practices that are outdated, slow, incomplete, expensive and often inaccurate. Relying on pen and paper to track billions of fish is obviously antiquated and results in management uncertainty and economic inefficiencies.

If we are going to renewably maximize the bounty that the ocean can provide to our nation, we need additional and better monitoring, accountability, and enforcement throughout our fisheries. Many of our members are doing that by installing camera systems on their boats. When the nets are hauled back or lines drawn in, the cameras turn on and record the catch so that there is certainly about what is landed and what is discarded. We are now working to ensure that these real-time data are utilized to make wise management decisions. We look forward to working with you to innovate and implement electronic monitoring and electronic reporting of real-time catch data to reduce uncertainty in our fisheries and thus maximize sustainable harvesting.

The Seafood Harvesters’ mission is to develop sustainable fisheries, using accountability as the sword and the shield. We are the fishermen who rose out of the ashes of overfishing and are using the hard lessons we learned to chart a path to prosperity and environmental health. We have an obligation to make wild-caught fish a viable, enduring, dependable source of food. Healthy fisheries are vital to the economic well-being of our coastal communities, now and into the future.

We greatly appreciate your consideration of our concerns as you look to reauthorize and strengthen the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We hope you will work with us to improve the law through modernizing the data collections systems, innovating better ways to incorporate real-time data into stock assessment, while maintaining science based catch limits to prevent overfishing, rebuild vulnerable fish populations and protect the safety and long-term stability of our fishing communities.

Thank you for your consideration, leadership and support for the commercial fishing industry. Sincerely,

Kevin R. Wheeler
Executive Director

Seafood Harvesters of America: Letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke

July 3, 2017 - Published in News Releases

June 20, 2017

The Honorable Ryan Zinke
Secretary, U.S. Department of Interior Monument Review MS-1530
1849 C Street NW
Washington D.C. 20240

Secretary Zinke,

On behalf of the Seafood Harvesters of America, we welcome your leadership of the Department of Interior and look forward to working with you to ensure our nation has a sustainable, stable and safe supply of seafood. As you review the establishment and management of marine monuments under the Antiquities Act, we encourage you to designate fishery management decisions within the marine monuments to the Regional Fishery Management Councils (Councils).

The United States has one of the most successful fishery management systems in the world with almost 500 federally managed stocks producing almost 10 billion pounds of seafood valued at over $5 billion annually. Through the accountability standards and conservation mandates in the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), our fisheries have improved dramatically as the commercial fishing industry has become more responsible, transparent and efficient. The federal ecosystem-based management regime ensures conservation and optimal sustainable utilization of resources through a proven robust public, science-based process. This is in stark contrast to the monument designation process that threatens local economies by unnecessarily taking fishermen off the water across vast stretches of traditional fishing grounds and concentrating fishing effort into less productive areas.

The MSA allows for identification of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) and regulatory mechanisms for preventing fishing in areas designated as critical. We believe the transparent MSA management process, which incorporates the best science available and engages all stakeholders is a far better mechanism than the Antiquities Act to identify and protect vital habitat.

We greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with you on these and other matters affecting the commercial fishing industry, which provides essential economic benefits for coastal communities and nutritious seafood for Americans across the nation.

Sincerely,

Chris Brown, President

Kevin Wheeler, Executive Director

SEAFOOD HARVESTERS OF AMERICA: LETTER TO SECRETARY WILBUR ROSS

June 19, 2017 - Published in News Releases

June 16, 2017

The Honorable Wilbur Ross
Secretary,
United States Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20230

The Seafood Harvesters of America are deeply concerned about the temporary rule issued by the Department of Commerce to re-open and significantly extend the private angling component for red snapper in the exclusive economic zone of the Gulf of Mexico. We would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you how this rule could impact the health of the stock, the commercial fishing industry and the seafood supply chain.

We believe the rule clearly violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), sets a dangerous precedent in undermining regional fisheries management and will result in overfishing a valuable species that we have fought hard to recover. Accountability is the driving force for sustainable fishery management and consequently, the commercial sector has consistently adhered to its quotas and allocations. The MSA requires that any overages in fishing be paid-back in the following year to maintain the integrity of the rebuilding schedule. However, the action taken by the Department of Commerce does the opposite by rewarding the recreational sector for overfishing its quota last year.

The rule acknowledges that “red snapper is overfished,” “the amount of red snapper that can be caught by private anglers is near an all-time high,” and “this approach may delay the ultimate rebuilding of the stock by as many as 6 years.” It justifies overfishing citing that “recreational fishing generates economic activity as consumers spend their income on various goods and services needed for recreational fishing.” The economic benefits of recreational catch are dwarfed by those of the commercial sector and seafood supply chain that support the jobs, tax revenue and economic benefits of businesses that catch, process, transport, market, prepare, serve and sell red snapper across the nation. Therefore, we would like to know if the Commerce Department considered the economic loss that the assumed overfishing would have on the seafood industry, including the charter boat and commercial sectors, before promulgating this rule.

The red snapper fishery has been a success story with the biomass of the species having more than doubled over the past decade. Consequently, allocations and landings for all sectors have also more than doubled during this time. Because recreational fishermen have garnered greater access to catch red snapper in state waters, access to federal waters has declined, but overall access and landings have continued to grow substantially. Therefore, it is a false narrative to declare that the shortened federal season is creating significant economic hardship when it is the direct result of the extended state seasons, which have been a boon to local economies that support a growing recreational fishery.

The Seafood Harvesters of America support the concept of a unified state-federal season, and believe that it should require regional management and prevent overfishing. We would like to meet with you as soon as possible to find an equitable solution that improves access to red snapper, protects the local economies that support all fishing sectors, and continues to rebuild this valuable fishery to the benefit of all Americans.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.

Kevin Wheeler, Executive Director

Testimony of Chris Brown to House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science

May 30, 2017 - Published in News Releases

Testimony of ChrIs Brown
President, Seafood Harvesters of America
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science
April 28, 2017

On behalf of the Seafood Harvesters of America, I respectfully request funding for the following lines in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) FY2018 appropriations account.

• $180,000,000 – Fisheries Data, Collection, Surveys and Assessments
• $ 50,000,000 – Observers and Training
• $125,000,000 – Fisheries Management Programs and Services
• $ 35,000,000 – Regional Councils and Fisheries Commissions
• $ 75,000,000 – Enforcement

The Harvesters represent over 3,900 small businesses, nineteen thousand jobs, almost $500 million in income and $1.25 billion in economic output. Our members are privileged to go to sea every day from the Gulf of Alaska, to the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Maine bringing to market healthy, domestic, sustainable seafood.

As a lifelong commercial fisherman, I can attest that after years of hard work and sacrifice, once depleted fish populations are on the rebound and landings and revenue are up where we’ve made the difficult short-term sacrifices to ensure long-term profitability. We achieved this progress by working with NMFS to design and implement rules governing our fisheries regionally, based on a shared commitment to long-term sustainability. Through the accountability standards and conservation mandates in the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), our fisheries have improved dramatically as the commercial fishing industry has become more responsible, transparent and efficient. Where implemented, catch shares programs have ended the race to fish and enabled more flexible harvesting, allowing for more complete yields of target species, reducing bycatch and discards and avoiding catch of prohibited species.

Resulting from our joint commitment and the prioritization of funding that this committee has supported over the years, America has some of the best managed fisheries in the world. While far from perfect, this model has proven to be a wise investment for the American taxpayer. The return on investment for these funds is overwhelming as NMFS estimates that rebuilding all U.S. fish populations to healthy levels would deliver taxpayers an additional $31 billion in annual sales and support 500,000 new American jobs.

Despite successes in many fisheries, scientific and management uncertainty elsewhere has impeded sustainable harvesting practices and led to unwarranted conflict. Consequently, the Seafood Harvesters of America, support increased funding for NMFS’ programs that are vital to our ability to monitor, forecast and thus responsibly manage our fisheries.

I encourage the committee to provide additional funds to support NOAA’s ability to fight the illegal importation and poaching of seafood as well as efforts to support seafood traceability. Our hard-working harvesters demand nothing more and deserve nothing less than a level playing field in a global marketplace where far too many fish are caught and sold illegally.

The influx of invasive species, warming waters, altered currents and acidification are impacting the habitat, migration patterns and health of the fisheries that we strive to bring to market each day. I’ve fished in the same waters off of Point Judith Rhode Island for over 40 years and I’m catching species that I have never seen in Narraganset Bay. This tells me that we need better and timelier data so that we can responsibly adjust to the changes that Mother Nature is throwing our way.

We are at a turning point in the history of our nation’s fisheries, and I foresee tremendous growth with appropriate investments. However, I fear that budget cuts could lead to less information, less certainty and thus lower quotas to fish; which will devastate fishing communities along all our coasts.

We need more, not fewer, surveys of our fisheries, so we can have accurate stock assessments – the lifeblood of sustainable fisheries. We need cooperative research so that we can utilize the on-the-water experience and expertise of fishermen to better understand and predict how our fisheries are responding to climate change. And finally, we need to modernize the data systems so that we can take advantage of real-time information to avoid overfishing stocks in decline or under fishing stocks that are rebuilding.

Fishermen in both the commercial and recreational sectors have long offered to provide the data we collect while fishing. And while efforts have been taken to incorporate our contributions, too often the government is unable to use data from fishermen because its’ existing systems are not equipped to handle the additional input. Consequently, I greatly appreciate the committees continued support for incorporating agency-independent data into stock assessments.

Investments in technology could help lighten the heavy burden of the cost of human observers who are often required to measure catch, a job that could be accomplished in many instances by cameras and other technology. Personally, I have installed a camera system on my boat that increases the value of data coming out of the fishery by recording the catch when I haul back the nets. I hope the committee will continue to support innovations and implementation of electronic monitoring and reporting technologies that I have found can provide invaluable fisheries knowledge and data.

Our harvesters work in some of the most harsh and dangerous environments and leave the dock each day not knowing for sure if they will return to their loved ones. Consequently, safety is of utmost importance for our industry. However, our fishing fleet is aging and thus less safe than ideal. We desperately require access to finances to construct safer vessels and therefore, encourage recapitalization opportunities through NOAA’s Fishing Finance Program.

I greatly appreciate your consideration of the Harvester’s appropriations requests. I believe these investments will produce valuable returns for our domestic industries that harvest, process, market, deliver, prepare and serve seafood to Americans across the nation. Accountability is critical for success and as fishermen we will continue to champion transparency so that we can to make wild-caught fish a viable, enduring, dependable source of food.

Christopher Brown
President, Seafood Harvesters of America

Letter to House of Representatives on Huffman Amendment to H.R. 953

May 24, 2017 - Published in News Releases

The United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

May 23, 2017
Dear Representative:

On behalf of thousands of tribal, commercial, and recreational fishermen who depend on healthy fisheries for their subsistence, traditional cultural practices, businesses, and recreational enjoyment, we write to urge you to vote YES on the Huffman amendment to H.R. 953. The amendment would ensure that existing Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) permitting requirements for point source polluters remain in place when science clearly indicates they are needed to protect fisheries.

Under §402 of the FWPCA, the Administrator of the EPA may issue permits for point source discharges of approved pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides into navigable waters, which are also inhabited by many important and valuable fish species that are worth billions of dollars to fishermen and anglers each year. H.R. 953 would eliminate the EPA’s permitting authority for approved pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides discharged into navigable waters. Many of these chemicals, despite their approval for agricultural use, are known to be seriously harmful to iconic fish species including salmon and trout, jeopardizing their survival and posing a risk to the food supply.

Congressman Huffman’s amendment to H.R. 953 would simply leave EPA permitting requirements in place for the dumping of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides into our streams and rivers when they are known to pose a significant risk to fisheries. We ask that you support this amendment in order to keep America’s fisheries and strong fishing traditions alive, safe, and prosperous. If you have any questions, please call Noah Oppenheim, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, at (415) 561-5080.

Sincerely,

Noah Oppenheim
Executive Director
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

Leaf Hillman
Director, Department of Natural Resources Karuk Tribe
Karuk Tribe

Caleen Sisk
Chief
Winnemem Wintu Tribe

Robert Vandermark
Executive Director
Marine Fish Conservation Network

Kevin Wheeler
Executive Director
Seafood Harvesters of America

Roger Thomas
President
Golden Gate Salmon Association

Bob Rees
Executive Director
Association of Northwest Steelheaders

Linda Behnken
Executive Director
Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association

Grant Putnam
President
Northwest Guides and Anglers Association

Benjamin Bulis
President
American Fly Fishing Trade Association

Lyf Gildersleeve
Owner
Flying Fish Company

Kevin Scribner
Chief Executive
Officer Forever Wild Seafood

Cynthia Sarthou
Executive Director
Gulf Restoration Network

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

Seafood Harvesters of America Oppose Pebble Mine Development

May 16, 2017 - Published in News Releases

The Seafood Harvesters of America are profoundly troubled by the reported settlement between EPA and Northern Dynasty Minerals that clears the way for the Canadian mining company to pursue the development of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

The Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska supports a $1.5 billion annual sustainable and renewable salmon fishery.  Consequently, the Seafood Harvesters believe that the existing 14,000 American jobs generated by Bristol Bay’s ecological resources should trump the short-term interests of a foreign mining company.

As commercial fishermen, we frequently work closely and productively with other industries in the marine environment. We have often found opportunities to coexist, while effectively conserving ocean resources for future generations.   However, developing a mine at the headwaters of the world’s most productive salmon fishery is not one of those places.

There is too much at risk should even a small fraction of a potential 10 billion tons of mining waste makes its way into the Alaskan ecosystem. A 2014 federal scientific study found that in the course of normal, safe operations, the Pebble Mine would destroy, block or otherwise alter up to 94 miles of salmon streams. A significant human or engineering failure would likely result in a decades-length catastrophic loss of salmon and degraded habitat for the other 29 fish species in the region.

As fishermen, we have a great respect for both the power of the ocean and the fragility of fish species. We strive to preserve and protect the ocean environment, while harvesting marine resources sustainably. We embrace accountability and transparency to ensure that we do no harm to the ocean upon which we rely, so that we can have productive fisheries for generations to come. We encourage the Trump Administration to stand beside the hard working fishermen and women who oppose the Pebble Mine to ensure that we can continue to bring to market healthy, domestic and delicious seafood.

 

Kevin Wheeler
Executive Director

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