Oral Testimony of Robert E. (Bob) Dooley Before House Committee on National Resources Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, May 1, 2019

May 6, 2019 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy,Policy

Chairman Huffman, Ranking Member McClintock, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today regarding the State of our nation’s fisheries.

My name is Bob Dooley. I am a lifelong commercial fisherman from Half Moon Bay, California and a member of the board of directors of Seafood Harvesters of America. Seafood Harvesters is a national commercial fishing association comprised of 17 member-organizations that represent a variety of fisheries on every coast. I am also a member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, but I am not here today in that role.

Over the past 40 years, we have come a long way in the management of our nation’s fisheries for their long-term sustainability. We owe this success in large part to the management principles established in the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA). In 2013, when I last testified before the House Natural Resources Committee, I stated that the MSA is an excellent piece of legislation. I stand by that statement today.

It is our foundational fisheries law and we ensure a plentiful and lasting seafood harvest through prioritizing the science-based management it prescribes.

For example, on the West Coast, the trawl fishery was declared an economic disaster in 2000 due to over-fishing brought on by the lack of accountability and unobserved regulatory discards. As a result, we had 10 groundfish species declared overfished. Many of these stocks carried a more than 45-year rebuilding schedule

With the 2011 implementation of 100 percent industry funded observer coverage, uncertainty was eliminated. As of last year, eight of those overfished species were declared completely rebuilt and none remain overfished. This is the result of full accountability and science-based management.

Secondly, I’d like to discuss the rising costs of observers in our commercial fisheries.

The need for a base level of human observer coverage in our fisheries is indisputable and supported by the Seafood Harvesters. However, as costs continue to rise—upwards of $500/day in our region—carrying observers on all vessels becomes an extreme economic burden, especially for smaller vessels.

Harvesters strongly believe in full accountability, but we think there is a scalable, more cost-effective way to achieve that.

Electronic Monitoring and integrated logbooks are showing great promise. Many pilot programs are proving to deliver cost-effective catch accounting tools. It is critically important that while regulations are being developed governing their use, that we are keenly aware of the cost associated with their adoption. We should avoid prescribing a Cadillac when all we need is a Chevy.

Regardless of who pays the tab, industry or government, we must have a common goal of reducing costs while achieving a reasonable amount of certainty in our data and management.

Third, I’d like to talk about the impact climate change is having on our fisheries. Commercial fishermen will be the first to tell you about the changes they’ve seen on the water in recent years.

These changes are creating additional fishing restrictions and closures that cause significant economic losses.

We must recognize that fisheries are part of the ecosystem and the necessary resources must be provided for the industry to continue its mission to remain the front-line stewards of our marine resources. We can’t turn fisheries on and off and expect them, and the communities that rely on them, to remain viable.

I encourage Congress to support the work that the Councils and NOAA are doing to develop frameworks that will allow the industry to have the tools to adapt and manage their fishing practices in the face of climate change.

Lastly, I’d like to touch on NOAA funding. Without adjusting NOAA’s budget to keep up with the rising costs of facilities, labor, and program execution, the agency will be hamstrung and unable to carry out their core mission

As an example, on the West Coast we were recently informed by the National Marine Fisheries Service that 2 of the 4 contracted survey vessels will not be conducting surveys for the next two years due to budget shortfalls. This lack of survey data and the resulting uncertainty it produces will over time cost West Coast fisheries millions of dollars in lost jobs and fish production.

Our ability to feed good data into our stock assessments depends on having the resources to do so.

As I end my testimony here today I would leave you with this one thought. Each fishing vessel is a business. I’m here today because I want to see the long-term sustainability and growth of not just our fisheries resources, but also each business that operates on the water.

As Congress considers the state of fisheries today, I hope you will recognize the great successes we’ve achieved over the past decades, but also look to tackling some of the issues I’ve presented here.

Thank you.

Mr. Dooley’s written testimony as submitted to the Committee is available here.