Harvesters Oppose S. 1520 as Introduced

February 16, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

Senator John Thune, Chairman
Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation
United States Senate
512 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Senator Bill Nelson, Ranking Member
Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation
United States Senate
512 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson,

We understand that the Committee may soon consider the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (S. 1520), so we want to inform you of our concerns. The Seafood Harvesters of America opposes S.1520, as introduced, because the bill would harm the nation’s commercial fishermen and seafood supply chain. Improving recreational fishery management doesn’t require undercutting commercial fishery management, yet this bill is much more focused on the latter than on the former. It is unclear how diminishing the accountability of commercial fisheries will better serve the nation’s interests or enhance the quality or duration of recreational fishing in the instances where stocks are shared.

Seafood Harvesters of America is a broadly based organization that represents commercial fishermen and their associations. Our members reflect the diversity of America’s coastal communities, the complexity of our marine environments, and the enormous potential of our commercial fisheries. As domestic harvesters of an American public resource, we recognize and embrace our stewardship responsibility. We strive for accountability in our fisheries, encourage others to do the same, and speak out on issues of common concern that affect the U.S. commercial fishing industry, the stewardship of our public resources, and the many millions of Americans who enjoy seafood.

We oppose the following provisions of S. 1520:

Moratorium on limited access privilege programs (LAPPs)

Section 103 would establish a temporary ban on new LAPPs for all mixed-use fisheries until an NAS study on LAPPs is completed. It also would require the National Academies of Science (NAS) study to focus only on perceived inequities of LAPPs in mixed-use fisheries and suggests some possible “solutions” to these perceived inequities before the study even determines whether any such inequities actually exist. We strongly oppose prohibiting regional fishery management councils from using currently authorized management tools, especially when the fishermen in the regulated fishery support their use. Also, by only focusing on the inequities of LAPPs, any benefit of the LAPPs would be overlooked in the NAS analysis. Section 103’s moratorium and requirement to apply recommendations that the Congress has not yet even seen would deprive councils and commercial fishermen of a useful and proven management tool. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) already includes several fishery participant protection requirements that apply to councils considering establishing or modifying a LAPP. Restricting commercial fishermen from developing and using LAPPs will not improve recreational fishery management.

Restricting the use of exempted fishing permits (EFPs)

Section 106 would establish a host of regulatory hurdles for approving EFPs and shorten their duration, making them significantly more challenging to use for any purpose or to renew within the applicable time limits. These are unnecessary burdens on using EFPs, which are an invaluable tool for fishermen who want to pilot new and innovative ideas to modernize fishery management. EFPs are, and have been, the foundation of conservation engineering efforts. Without this important tool, the technological advancement of increasingly selective fishing gear would become impossible. As an industry, it is how we continue to learn and, in our view, it is preposterous to deliberately limit the potential for improvements in any aspect of harvesting. For example, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Gulf Council)recently approved EFPs from each of the five Gulf States proposing to manage Federal waters recreational red snapper fisheries. Had Section 106 been in effect, these EFPs could not have been approved in time for the 2018 fishing season. Section 106 exposes the hypocrisy of the bill’s recreational fishing supporters. We oppose this section, as restricting commercial fishermen from developing and using EFPs will not improve recreational fishery management.

Relaxing Rebuilding Requirements

Congress strengthened the statutory rebuilding timeline requirement in 2007 because fish stocks were not being rebuilt and were at a significant risk for overfishing. We oppose Section 104’s relaxation of those requirements, which would create great uncertainty regarding rebuilding timeframes, perpetuate overfished stock conditions, and have negative downstream effects on our businesses (increased risk, economic uncertainty) and the nation’s seafood consumers (restricted access, higher prices). Success is a function of discipline. At a time fraught with significant, documented environmental stresses on the East and West coasts and Alaska, disasters in the Gulf of Mexico, and a general lull in systemic fishery productivity, it is not clear to us how ushering in a lower level of stewardship is in our nation’s interest.

Establish exemptions from annual catch limit (ACL) Requirements

We are concerned that Section 105 would freeze an ACL under certain conditions even if scientists recommend lowering it. Overriding science-based management is a move in the wrong direction and could increase the risk that overfishing may occur, which threatens the long-term stability of our businesses and our access to the fish we depend on. We oppose this section.

Burdensome Allocation Reviews

Section 101 would overly burden two of the nation’s eight regional fishery management councils (for the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico) by mandating fishery allocation reviews for 32 stocks and six stock complexes. This unfunded mandate would effectively require these councils to continuously devote significant time and resources to these controversial discussions, leaving little if any time to devote to improving management, enhancing data collection, or developing better reporting systems. Councils already have the authority to review allocations at any time. For example, the Gulf Council recently initiated this process for red snapper.

Allocation reviews do nothing to improve the condition of a stock, the sole objective of fisheries management. Reconsideration and redistribution of fish from a more accountable sector to a less accountable sector would lengthen recovery time and reduce overall benefits to both recreational and commercial fishermen. It is our belief that management reviews would greater serve all parties than allocation reviews. The determination of how effectively a fishery management plan controls mortality should be the focus of improvement efforts. Failure to control mortality using ineffective measures should not pave the way to a larger share. Because this is contrary to that which serves our national interest, we oppose Section 101.

S.1520 includes only three sections that appear intended to improve recreational fishery management. While these sections provide some positive direction to that effect, two of them should be clarified to prevent potential harmful effects.

Alternative management measures

While alternative management measures for recreational fisheries sound promising, it’s unclear whether Section 102 would exempt such alternative measures from the MSA requirement that councils develop ACLs for each managed fishery. If so, this would undercut MSA’s primary tool for rebuilding overfished fisheries nationwide and would have negative impacts on commercial fishing businesses, the seafood supply chain, and the end users – the nation’s seafood consumers. This section should explicitly continue to apply ACLs to such fisheries.

Data Collection

We are encouraged by the language in Sections 201 and 202 regarding improving recreational and third party data collection and partnerships. Science-based management is the foundation of MSA, our nation’s successful fishery law, and we support opportunities that strengthen its core. However, we recommend that Section 202’s direction to the NAS on studying in-season management of recreational fisheries focus on how it can be improved to stay within ACLs, not on whether it is appropriate to do so. Also, we oppose using Saltonstall-Kennedy funds, which are intended to help U.S. commercial fishing compete with foreign commercial fishing, to pay for State recreational data collection activities.

In summary, S.1520 does not appear to be focused on providing better management tools to enable recreational fishermen to enjoy longer fishing seasons without exceeding their ACLs. Instead, a number of provisions in S. 1520 would restrict, constrain, or inhibit commercial fishery management. Congress doesn’t need to harm commercial fishermen to improve recreational fishery management – there is a better path forward.

The nation’s fishermen, seafood suppliers, consumers, and Congressional leaders must protect the gains we have made over the past 40 years under MSA. It is in everyone’s best interest to pass on to the next generation vibrant national fishery resources. This will help to ensure Americans have access to sustainable seafood today and for years to come. Unfortunately, the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 would not accomplish that goal, and instead would eliminate some of the critical protections that have helped many of the nation’s fisheries thrive. For that reason, the Seafood Harvesters of America must oppose S.1520, as it was introduced.

Sincerely,

Christopher Brown, President
Seafood Harvesters of America

 

Member organizations:
Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers
Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association
Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance
Cordova District Fishermen United
Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association
Fort Bragg Groundfish Association
Georges Bank Fixed Gear Cod Sector, Inc.
Gulf Fishermen’s Association
Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance
Midwater Trawlers Cooperative
New Hampshire Groundfish Sectors
North Pacific Fisheries Association
Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association
Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association
South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association
United Catcher Boats

 

CC: Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee members
S.1520 co-sponsors