August 7, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
By Jenny Hopkinson, Washington, D.C.
8/7/14 5:03 AM EDT
Sport fishing groups have a message for the commercial fishing industry now that the federal fisheries law is up for renewal: This time, it’s our turn.
The groups, which are feeling their lobbying weight as sport fishing gains in popularity nationally, say their industry’s importance to coastal economies still isn’t reflected in the 38-year-old Magnuson-Stevens Act, which regulates how many fish each of the industries can catch.
Recreational anglers, who make up a growing $70 billion industry, care about such things as individual fish sizes, the abundance of prized species and the length of the fishing season — issues they say the law doesn’t adequately address.
“We want our fair share, and that’s what we are going for,” Michael Leonard, director of ocean resource policy for the American Sportfishing Association, said, adding that the industry has wanted its issues addressed for many years.
“It’s long past time,” Leonard said. “There are better ways of managing fisheries for recreational use, and it’s long past time to start figuring out what those are.”
The commercial fishing industry, which had sales of $141 billion in 2012 and accounts for about 98 percent of the domestic annual catch, isn’t taking the demands of recreational anglers lying down. The harvest amounts they’ve been allotted are key to their business models, they say, and the proposed changes could harm their bottom line.
With the law now past its 2013 renewal date, both sides are drafting battle plans and lobbying Capitol Hill as House lawmakers and senators prepare to push ahead with a renewal, which could advance this fall.
At the same time, the sponsor of one reauthorization bill, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska.), faces what will likely be a tough reelection in the Republican-leaning state. Commercial fisheries in Alaska contributed $4.2 billion in sales and supported 56,000 jobs in 2012, according to the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service, making the industry a key constituency.
If Begich loses — and that’s still a big if — whoever might succeed him as chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation oceans subcommittee could ignore the proposals in his draft bill, which try to meet some of the demands of the recreational fishing industry as well as the calls of commercial fishermen. That’s more likely if Republicans take the Senate this fall.
Under that scenario, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) could move from ranking member to chairman of the panel, giving recreational fishing groups a potential champion where it counts. Florida’s recreational fishing industry is the largest in the nation, generating about $13.1 billion in sales and supporting 109,000 jobs in 2012 — more than the commercial industry employed in the state, the NMFS report said.
On the House side, Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) introduced a bill (H.R. 4742) in May that would allow more flexibility in stock rebuilding time frames and add to the things that regional councils responsible for managing U.S. fisheries may consider in determining catch limits, such as changes in an ecosystem or the economic needs of fishing communities. It would also make the appointed regional councils more transparent.
However, the measure, which could go to the House floor for a vote before the end of the year, falls short on the priorities of the sport fishing industry.
The American Sportfishing Association is pressing members of Congress to take the long view in deciding the acceptable catch size for each industry. It says the management of fisheries should be based on long-term harvest rates, not annual quotas, which require a halt to fishing when catch limits are exceeded, hurting businesses. The long-term rate has proved successful in managing inland fisheries, the group says.
What’s more, catch sizes for each industry should be reexamined every five years, the ASA says. Currently, there is no set period for such reassessments, a problem made worse by the failure of the regional fisheries management councils to address catch allocations in “mixed-use” fishing grounds, or those used by both commercial and recreational fishermen.
Commercial fishermen however, say they depend on those allocations to project long-term revenues, which determine a fleet’s ability to gain financing — something a regular review could throw into uncertainty.
“If I were a hunter and gatherer, I would not be intimidated by the idea of a five-year reallocation,” said Chris Brown, head of the Seafood Harvesters of America. “But having negotiated the terms of my financial existence with a lending institution that expects prompt payment every 30 days or so, I have to have a pretty good handle on where my business can go. The thought of reallocation hanging over my head … is something this industry cannot tolerate.”
Recreational angling groups say they are “underwhelmed” by Hastings’ bill, which is missing “that wholesale reexamination of how recreational fisheries would be managed federally that we were hoping to see,” Leonard said.
Begich’s draft measure, on the other hand, would require the fisheries management councils for the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic — two regions where anglers have long called for a greater piece of the catch — to give catch limits the five-year review that anglers are seeking. It also would require the National Academy of Sciences to help determine criteria for setting catch allocations, including conservation and socioeconomic concerns.
The senator’s proposal would also require fisheries managers to take the needs of the fishing communities into account in setting time frames to rebuild fishing stocks and would move toward the electronic, rather than human, collection of fisheries data.
Much of the draft bill’s contents address the sport fishing industry’s concerns, although the groups are still pushing for national, rather than region-specific, catch allocations, Leonard said.
Mark Gleason, executive director of the commercial fishing group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, praised Begich’s draft, saying it “threads a fine line” on the reallocation issue. Its distinction between environmental issues and overfishing as causes of declining fish populations would be helpful to commercial fishermen, he said.
Commercial fishing groups generally protest the move to address recreational fishing priorities, however, saying they have already made a considerable financial sacrifice to keep fisheries sustainable.
Magnuson-Stevens largely put the blame for overfishing on commercial boats, “so it was up to the commercial fishing industry to respond and to sacrifice and to make progress” to meet the conservation goals, which meant sticking to strict catch and reporting requirements laid out in the original law, said Brett Veerhusen, executive director of the Seafood Harvesters of America, which represents 14 commercial fishing associations.
Sport fishing groups should have to make similar compromises “before we start taking [allocations] away from the user group that has been largely responsible for rebuilding of fish stocks,” said Veerhusen.
His group was established in June to lobby on the Magnuson-Stevens renewal, proposed EPA rules on deck wash from commercial boats and Coast Guard rules governing vessel standards, among other things.
Although Veerhusen declined to comment on Hastings’ bill, he said the language in Begich’s draft on catch allocations is a red flag. Allowing their reassessment in the South Atlantic and Gulf fisheries “sets a bad precedent” and would be bad for business, he said.
Veerhusen added that his group is still fleshing out what the proposed National Academy of Sciences report could mean for the industry and plans to submit comments on the bill to the senator’s office by Aug. 20.
The complex provisions in the bill may require “more time to review this and what it means through the end of this year,” he said.
Conservationists, meanwhile, say that both bills wouldn’t do enough to protect marine ecosystems.
The Hastings bill would roll back requirements on the time frames for rebuilding fish stocks by expanding exemptions from the current 10-year standard, the environmental group Oceana said in a May 29 press release. The bill also doesn’t include provisions to stem so-called bycatch, or the unintentional snaring of fish, or take climate change into account, the group said.
Beckie Zisser, who lobbies lawmakers on Magnuson-Stevens for Oceana, called the Begich draft bill “watered down.” The measure doesn’t include provisions to protect forage fish or annual limits on how many fish can be caught, among other things, she said.
However, she added, it may be the best conservationists can get.
“The question is, do stakeholders want a Begich bill to go through now or a Rubio driven bill next year,” Zisser said.
The concern of conservation groups is that a bill from the Florida Republican could call for the further rolling back of conservation measures and changes to base provisions of the law to make it more friendly to recreational anglers and commercial groups alike. “Do we get a bill that is kind of what we want now or a bill we hate in a few years.”
August 6, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
Fishermen won’t need special permits to hose off their decks thanks to a bill moving through the U.S. Senate. That’s garnered a big sigh of relief from harvesters across the nation and kudos to a rare show of bipartisanship by coastal lawmakers, notably Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Marco Rubio of Florida.
“The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act extends a moratorium that was already granted to the commercial fishing industry from 2008, and it’s been up every couple of years. It would extend this moratorium indefinitely so commercial fishing vessels don’t have to apply for a ridiculous discharge permit every time rain falls onto your deck and flows overboard. That’s incidental discharge to the normal operation of a vessel. So it just cuts the red tape that fishermen would have to incur,” explained Brett Veerhusen, executive director of Seafood Harvesters of America, who has been watchdogging the discharge bill.
The incidental discharge requirement is part of the Clean Boating Act passed by Congress in 2008. It provided a permanent exemption for roughly 13 million recreational vessels, even 400-foot yachts, but not for commercial fishing boats or other vessels in the maritime industries. The measure affects nearly 10,000 fishing vessels in Alaska alone, and harvesters believe the permanent exclusion should also apply to them.
Veerhusen said it is imperative that the discharge dodge is passed before the temporary exemption expires Dec. 18.
“After that, commercial fishing vessels will be subject to permit requirements to test the water that runs off their deck from deck wash or even rainwater,” he said. “That is completely onerous and ridiculous and burdensome.”
The measure still has to get final approval from Congress, but Veerhusen is confident it will make it through.
“We really appreciate the support that Sens. Begich and Rubio have been able to garner for this. It’s quite remarkable, and it just shows that whether you’re in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Maine or the Gulf of Alaska, fishermen nationwide feel very strongly about this,” he added.
Seafood Harvesters of America formed in June and so far includes 14 regional fishing groups. Veerhusen, who hails from a Homer fishing family, said the new group has been well received in D.C.
“It is welcome news to folks on the Hill to have a succinct national voice regarding these issues. Traditionally, fishermen have gone about trying to effect federal law from a regional standpoint, and we are able to synthesize all of these voices into some common goals and concerns.”
August 6, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
Water discharged from fishing vessels and other marine watercraft is the subject of a new bill that has just advanced out of committee.
US Senator Mark Begich announced that S. 2094 has just left the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Known as the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, the bill deals with regulations on water discharged from fishing boats and other marine vessels. The regulations are designed to deal with ballast water, which is used by ships for balance, and when discharged into the sea, can contain harmful microorganisms and/or invasive species. While the regulations are meant to deal with larger vessels, such as bulk cargo ships, Begich says they can apply in odd ways for smaller vessels.
“Right now, for example, if you’re out there fishing and it’s raining, the EPA will require you to test that water that’s landing on your deck during your fishing before it goes back into the ocean. Well that doesn’t make any sense. So this legislation creates a national standard that cuts the red tape, lowers the regulation on EPA, still protects water quality, but helps our fishermen, as well as barges, ships, and so forth, comply with the law.”
With S. 2094, Begich hopes to create a uniform standard for water discharge, clearing up ambiguities in the law and reducing red tape, especially for fishing vessels and barges, which are commonplace in Alaska. It also involves exempting so-called “incidental discharges” by vessels smaller than 79 feet. These include typical fishing boats, tenders, and some recreational vessels. Begich notes that while exemptions have been granted on a year-to-year basis, this would deal with the problem for good.
“It’s very exciting because we’ve been working on this for several years. We’ve been able to get extensions, but this would permanently fix the problem, and it’s purely a bipartisan bill that I’m honored to be the sponsor of with my friend from Florida Marco Rubio.”
With the bill out of committee, Begich and his colleagues are working to get it considered on the Senate floor. The Seafood Harvesters of America, an organization representing commercial fishermen, applauded the bill getting out of committee, and encouraged Begich and Rubio to get it on the floor before the end of the session. They said if the exemptions were allowed to expire, it could push their industry off a “fish cliff.”
Full text of S. 2094, as well as updates on its progress in the Senate, can be found at congress.gov.
July 24, 2014 - Published in News Releases
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Seafood Harvesters Applauds Senate Action In Support of America’s Commercial Fishing Fleet
Senate Agreement Could Avert Massive Fish Cliff for Economically-Critical Industry
Washington, DC – The Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation favorably reported S. 2094 (the “Vessel Incidental Discharge Act,” or VIDA), introduced by Senator Begich and 30 co-sponsors, to deal with discharges incidental to the normal operation of a commercial fishing vessel on Wednesday. Seafood Harvesters of America President Chris Brown applauds the Senate for taking action on the measure, which has earned wide bi-partisan support:
“Harvesters urge the full Senate to consider S. 2094 on the floor as soon as possible, which will level the fishing field by extending an existing discharge exemption granted for recreational vessels to commercial vessels. If Congress fails to get this legislation signed into law before the end of the session, when the moratorium expires, it could push our economically-critical industry to the edge of a massive ‘fish cliff’.
“Congress must ensure that US commercial fishermen can continue to sustainably harvest our seafood resources for the benefit of American consumers, coastal communities, and the thousands of small business around the country that depend on continued access to US seafood. By advancing this important legislation the Committee has demonstrated its commitment to protecting not only the aquatic environment, but also the commercial fishing industry throughout the United States that depends on clean water for its livelihood.”
• Congress.gov: S.2094 – Vessel Incidental Discharge Act — https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/2094/text
Seafood Harvesters of America (“Harvesters”), an umbrella association representing 14 commercial fishing organizations from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico north to New England. For more information, please visit seafoodharvesters.org, or contact (202) 888-6296.
July 15, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
The Seafood Harvesters of America is an umbrella group that has pulled together 14 regional fishing associations from different parts of the US to make sure that the voices of those who are successfully harvesting well managed stocks are heard in the Magnuson reauthorization.
At a conference in Washington DC, last month, they had the opportunity to present their ideas to NOAA and Congressional staffers. Chris Brown, a harvester from Rhode Island, is president of the group.
Chris said “The industry is in recognition that the Magnuson Act is working. The scope of the Act does not need to be expanded to continue moving in the right direction. ”
As a commercial fishermen, “there is one document that guides our actions: the Magnuson Act. We do not subscribe to the beliefs that there should be dissimilar standards between the commercial and recreational fishery.”
In making comments about Magnuson, the Seafood Harvesters make these points:
“The Magnuson Stevens Act is working extraordinarily well and is a statute Americans should be proud of. In the 1980s and ‘90’s, many stocks around the Nation suffered significant declines. This resulted in untold job loss and severe economic harm to coastal communities across America. However, through considerable sacrifice on the part of the commercial fishing industry, significant progress has been made to rebuild overfished species and today they are the exception, not the rule. In 1999, NOAA listed 98 stocks as overfished; by 2012, only 40 stocks were overfished and 34 previously depleted fish stocks have been rebuilt. While there is still room for continued improvement, Harvesters are proud of the fact that 91% of U. S. fishery stocks are not experiencing overfishing. As previously mentioned, scientifically based fisheries management is the key to ensuring we continue this trend into the future. The stocks our members harvest are sustainably managed and we believe the Magnuson Stevens Act should be reauthorized with minimum overall changes to ensure we do not erode any of the progress commercial fishermen have made.”
July 15, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
Anyone who fears the fishing industry is losing most of its youthful energy with an aging fleet of captains and crews certainly has reasons to worry. But for each of those reasons, I can think of quite a few young and enthusiastic fishermen and industry advocates who are going all out to make sure the industry is accessible and sustainable for their generation and many to come.
One of those stand-outs is Brett Veerhusen, who has been a drift-gillnet skipper in Bristol Bay and advocate for his fishery in the fight against Pebble Mine. Veerhusen recently helped launch the Seafood Harvesters of America. (See my story on this new advocacy group in the Around the Coasts section of our August issue and more on the role of young people in the industry in Senior Editor Linc Bedrosian’s Mixed Catch “Shrimping fits him to a Lil T” and Associate Editor Melissa Wood’s Coastlines“The fight for the future.”)
If you follow federal fish politics, you are well aware that many valiant efforts have been made toward national fishing advocacy groups. One of the things that makes this group different is that it’s based in Washington, D.C., and aims to springboard from the success Veerhusen and his colleagues at Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay had on Capitol Hill getting congressional support for EPA’s watershed assessment to help prevent the construction of Pebble Mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
The Seafood Harvesters of America comprises more than a dozen commercial fishing associations from around the country and seeks to find and call federal attention to common ground for national issues that affect all U.S. commercial fishermen.
June 19, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
A spokesman for Seafood Harvesters of America, with members from New England and the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska, says the organization hopes to provide a united voice for commercial fishermen on Capitol Hill.
The newly formed group has proclaimed itself as a united voice for “accountable and thriving fisheries.”
According to Brett Veerhusen, a veteran of Alaska’s commercial fisheries, and executive director of Seafood Harvesters, the idea is to bring the small fishermen’s voices to the nation’s capital. “We are providing a mechanism and organization to be telling the stories of American fishermen and how federal law really affects commercial fishermen,” he told Fishermen’s News on June 17.
June 9, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
From seafoodsource.com June 5, 2014
A national U.S. commercial fishermen’s organization has formed, ahead of next week’s Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW).
Fourteen fishing groups, including the Gulf Fishermen’s Association and the American Shark Fisheries Association, have formed Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA) to represent the interests of seafood fishermen. “Through Harvesters, America’s commercial fishermen will be at the table when important decisions are made,” said Chris Brown, president of SHA. “That is key, because in Washington, D.C., if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.”
June 9, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
From www.undercurrentnews.com June 6, 2014
Fourteen US fisheries have organized a new trade association that promises to be involved in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, in addition to other national policy issues.
The ‘Seafood Harvesters of America’ has appointed commercial fishermen Chris Brown as its president and Brett Veerhusen as its executive director
It also has created a five-member board that includes Brown (Rhode Island Fisherman’s Association), John Schmidt (Gulf Fishermen’s Association), Jack Cox (South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association), Brent Paine (United Catcher Boats) and Mark Gleason (Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers).
June 9, 2014 - Published in News Clippings
From www.intrafish.com, June 6, 2014
Seafood Harvesters of America says it will keep US lawmakers accountable on national fisheries policies.
Published: 06.06.2014 10:07
More than a dozen commercial fishing associations from across the country are working together as the only national organization of its kind representing the interests of US fishermen.
The new group, Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA), are hoping to ensure a plentiful and lasting industry stretching from New England, the Gulf of Mexico, and to the Bering Sea in Alaska.
Built on the principal of “accountability,” the group intends to make its voice heard on regulatory issues, budget priorities, conservation goals and the economic potential of America’s fisheries, according to its president Chris Brown.
“Through Harvesters, America’s commercial fishermen will be at the table when important decisions are made,” he said. “That’s key, because in Washington, D.C., if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Next week, Brown, along with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assistant administrator Eileen Sobeck, and National Geographic fellow and restaurateur Barton Seaver, will serve on a panel during Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) titled “The Future of American Fisheries,” on Thursday, June 12.
“Every fishery in our country, commercial or sport, must demonstrate accountability and transparency in order to continue sustainably harvesting a public resource,” said John Schmidt, who serves as the organization’s vice president.
The new organization’s five-member board includes Brown, of the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association; John Schmidt, of the Gulf Fishermen’s Association; Jack Cox of the South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association; Brent Paine of the United Catcher Boats Association; and Mark Gleason of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.
Gleason, the secretary-treasurer for SHA, said although US fisheries are very diverse and many of its organizations have “critical needs at the regional level,” the group has identified a set of common interests and positions it hopes to communicate to federal policy makers.
Among the issues likely to be discussed at CHOW is the re-authorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), which is the nation’s primary law governing US fisheries. Both chambers of Congress are now circulating draft MSA bills, and one of SHA’s top priorities will be to ensure that the law maintains strict catch limits and does not erode any of the progress commercial fishermen have made with rebuilding fish stocks, according to the group.
Brett Veerhusen, the new executive director of the organization said now, more than ever, it’s vital for these fishery regions to come together as a unified voice.
“Our members strive for strict accountability and science-based decision making to ensure healthy stocks for generations,” he said.
So far, 14 organizations have already thrown their support behind the new group.