News Clippings

Modern Fish Act: boon to recreational fishing or risk to U.S. fishery?

November 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from Mongabay, August 21, 2017

Modern Fish Act: Boon to Recreational Fishing or Risk to U.S. Fishery?

By 

Mongabay

  • The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act sets strict, scientifically adjusted, annual catch limits on U.S. commercial, charter and recreational fisheries in order to sustain saltwater fish stocks, and is seen as a model of fishery management globally.
  • The Modern Fish Act (MFA), a bill introduced in the U.S. House in April, would do away with limits on recreational fishermen, who argue they have no impact on fishery stocks. Environmentalists, however, say the MFA introduces legal loopholes that would allow for uncontrolled fishing at potentially unsustainable levels that could cause stocks to crash.
  • Critics also say that the MFA muddies the waters between federal and state management, and allows political and economic considerations to override science in management decisions. The bill is still moving through Congress, and its chances for passage are presently unknown.
  • The Trump administration has already made moves to undermine scientifically arrived at recreational fishing limits. Its Commerce Department overruled a NOAA limit on the red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico, a ruling experts say could delay the fishery’s recovery.

A bird soaring above U.S. coastal waters in the 1950s and 60s would have spied dozens of foreign fishing trawlers below. Back then, international waters began a mere 12 nautical miles offshore and could be fished by fleets from all the world’s nations, a situation that led to the decline of those U.S. commercial fisheries, and in some cases to the demise of fish stocks.

Congress responded in 1976 by passing the first version of a bill known today as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). This law aimed to rebuild fish stocks by extending U.S. jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles and by establishing national fisheries management standards.

But overfishing didn’t stop, and many important fish stocks, such as Atlantic cod collapsed.

Congress responded in 1996 and again in 2007, when the law was amended to strengthen U.S. regulated fisheries by ensuring sustainable, science-based management practices. Today, those fisheries have annual catch limits set at levels to prevent overfishing, while depleted populations require management plans to rebuild them to healthy levels.

But a new bill, the Modern Fish Act (MFA), now moving through the House of Representatives could challenge current laws governing federal saltwater fisheries. Officially known as the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (HR 2023), the bill was introduced in April, and would deregulate recreational saltwater fishing to a large degree. While praised by some sportsmenboating and outdoor organizations, it has also drawn strong opposition by conservationists and some commercial and charter fishermen.

“The Modern Fish Act inserts too much uncertainty into the fisheries management process by adversely changing catch limits and how they are applied, muddies the waters between state and federal management, and allows political and economic considerations to override science in management decisions,” says the Marine Fisheries Conservation Network, an NGO.

To date, no one knows how the MFA, if implemented, would impact U.S. fish stocks, or how it might affect the fisheries of neighbors Mexico and Canada.

The commercial vs. recreational fishing debate

Mike Leonard, Director of Conservation of the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), believes the new bill is needed because even though the old MSA has been successful, he claims it was written to regulate commercial fisheries, but was unjustifiably applied to managing recreational fishing as well. In actuality, the MSA was written to address all aspects of fisheries, spelling out rules for commercial, charter and recreational fishing in order to preserve sustainable fish stocks.

Leonard argued in an email to Mongabay that “Much like gardening in one’s backyard is different than large scale agriculture practices, recreational and commercial fishing are very different activities.” He contends that, while commercial fishermen have a single goal (to efficiently catch as many fish as possible), recreational anglers have other motivations, such as enjoying the outdoors with family and friends, catching and often releasing trophy fish, and occasionally catching dinner.

Meredith Moore, Director of the fish conservation program for the Ocean Conservancy, an environmental NGO, agrees that the management challenges posed by recreational and commercial fishing are differentHowever, she also notes that while the Modern Fish Act is advertised as providing solutions for recreational fishermen, it would fundamentally undermine the management system for all sectors of the U.S. fishery.

“At its core, sustainable fisheries are about catching an amount of fish that a population can sustain and remain healthy over the long term, no matter who catches the fish,” she told Mongabay. “This ensures recreational fishermen have the opportunity to catch a big one, and commercial fishermen can run a stable business and deliver fish to the dinner tables of Americans that don’t have the chance to fish themselves.”

The relaxation of limits

Today, annual catch limits (ACLs) are the main tool used to prevent overfishing in both commercial and recreational U.S. fisheries, and those limits ensure long-term biological and economic sustainability. An ACL is the amount of fish that can be caught by a particular fisherman over one year. These limits are determined by fishery scientists together with federal managers who, using current research, fix the maximum amount of fish that can be caught without harming stock.

However, under the proposed Modern Fish Act, a loophole would be introduced: annual recreational catch limits would no longer be required for stocks whose fishing rates were being maintained below their federal target, and ACLs would be removed for fisheries in which overfishing is not occurring.

“We’re in a chicken-and-egg problem here,” says Moore. Fisheries management, she explains, is essentially like weight loss. If you’re obese, you need to change your diet and exercise. But if after your weight comes down, you simply go back to old habits, the weight comes back. Same goes for fish: if a population is at an unhealthy low level, authorities must set limits on how much fishermen can catch until populations recover. Then ongoing sustainable catch levels need to be set so the fish population stays healthy.

“If you stop setting those levels just because the fish are doing better, you’re going to end up back where you were [with a depleted fishery]. The Modern Fish Act is basically saying ‘hey, the diet worked, problem solved, let’s go back to eating pizza every day’.”

But ASA’s Leonard contends that Congress should allow managers the flexibility to employ other recreational fisheries management approaches when no signs exist that a fishery is in trouble, rather than forcing recreational fishing into the fisheries management ACLs approach.

The status of U.S. fisheries is annually assessed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which tracks 474 stocks and stock complexes (fish species grouped for management). NOAA’s latest report to Congress at the end of 2016 states that the overfishing list included 30 stocks, but that 444 stocks or complexes are not presently being overfished.

Under the Modern Fish Act, those 444 stocks or complexes would lose their current requirement for science-based, sustainable annual limits on catch for recreational fishing.

Reliable data

According to Leonard, a lack of reliable data on recreational fisheries is what prevents ACLs from working well. “While managers have a good sense of what commercial fishermen are harvesting in close to real time, the U.S. system for estimating recreational harvest is unable to produce harvest estimates with the level of accuracy and timeliness to manage many recreational fisheries to annual catch limits.”

NOAA acknowledges this issue. Its Status of Stocks 2016 report states that: “ACLs are effective in preventing overfishing, but some challenges remain. For data poor and rarely-sampled stocks, for example, fisheries managers are still learning how to accurately account for catch and [how to] determine effective mechanisms to address overfishing.”

Seafood Harvesters of America Executive Director Kevin Wheeler told Mongabay that he supports the Modern Fish Act’s proposed provisions for improving the quality of fisheries data. He notes that sharing best practices on recreational data collection, and identifying and incorporating reliable data from multiple sources could prove beneficial for the whole sector. The commercial fisheries sector, he explains, has embraced accountability and transparency, and the industry is increasingly using electronic monitoring to reduce the cost of compliance, while improving the quality, quantity and timeliness of the data.

In an effort to improve fisheries data, the new bill would shift money away from the federal Marine Recreational Information Program, that collects data on fish stock, and turn that task over to individual states instead.

But, as Ocean Conservancy’s Moore points out, fish do not respect state boundaries. She also notes that not all states count their fish in the same way, and believes that taking money away from the federal program that brings all this data together is the wrong approach. Even if science is not always perfect, she says, the U.S. Fisheries management system is already designed to work using the best science available.

Another important point: states often don’t have the funding or expertise for large scale monitoring programs. And some coastal states, such as Alabama, have been accused for years by critics of a regulatory race to the bottom that encourages business by reducing environmental oversight. In a March 2017 letter, 18 conservative states — including coastal Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama — asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “end federal overreach” by getting rid of regulations that are the “product of political and social ideology.” This strong opposition by some seaside states to federal regulation doesn’t likely bode well for federal-state fisheries management partnerships, even though such relationships wouldn’t involve the EPA.

Economic arguments

U.S. saltwater fishing is not only an environmental issue; it is a big business issue as well. According to NOAA’s latest Fisheries Economics of the United States report in 2015, U.S. commercial and recreational fishing annually generates $208 billion in sales, and supports 1.6 million full- and part-time jobs.

There are approximately 8.9 million saltwater anglers in the United States, and they are an integral part of life in coastal communities and a major economic force, as they support 439,000 jobs and generate $63 billion in local sales.

Leonard asserts that recreational fishermen and boaters lead the way in conserving U.S. waterways, and that they contribute about $1.5 billion annually to conservation efforts through excise taxes on equipment and fuel, fishing license fees and direct donations. “Building and conserving healthy fish stocks is in the best interest of all Americans, especially our nation’s anglers,” he says.

The Modern Fish Act, say its supporters, would take this financial contribution into account by allowing economics to be closely considered when setting ACLs.

SHA’s Wheeler agrees that economics is a reasonable consideration, but cautions that fishing limits need to be set with an eye on the future because “overfishing now creates economic hardship later,” something the U.S. has already experienced with the collapse of cod and other fisheries.

“We have seen that short-term [economic] sacrifices have turned into long-term gains in those stocks that have been rebuilt. Since the 2007 Re-authorization of the MSA, which implemented real accountability measures for the first time, U.S. fisheries stocks have simultaneously rebuilt many stocks while increasing the economic value of landings in U.S. fisheries. This in turn has increased U.S. jobs, GDP, and stability in the fishing industries,” says Wheeler.

Those opposed to passage of the Modern Fish Act point out that economics is already considered in the setting of ACLs. In fact, in 2016, NOAA Fisheries revised the National Standard 1 Guidelines to help managers determine how best to achieve certain statutory requirements within the MSA such as preventing overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks, and achieving Optimum Yield.

MSA defines a fishery’s Optimum Yield “as the amount of fish that will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities and taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems.” To be clear, Optimum Yield is prescribed on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield from the fishery, as reduced by any relevant economic, social, or ecological factor. Therefore, this legal framework already allows managers to consider economic factors when setting catch levels. For instance, if a local economy is extremely vulnerable to stock collapse, then regulators can set ACLs lower than what scientists recommend.

“Since economics is already built into setting annual catch limits, I’m frankly confused as to what this part of HR 2023 would accomplish,” says Moore. “But I’m very opposed to allowing short-term economic considerations to allow annual catch limits to be set higher than sustainable levels. Overfishing damages fish populations, and healthy fish populations are what allow for stable businesses and fishing opportunities.”

The red snapper controversy

Being that the Modern Fish Act has only recently been introduced in the House, and considering the legislative deadlock seen in Congress so far this year, it is hard to predict at this stage when or whether the MFA will receive congressional approval. However, it does seem likely that if the bill passes both the House and Senate that President Trump — with his overarching commitment to environmental deregulation — would sign it into law.

The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), the self-declared “only sport fishing organization in the country that supported and publicly endorsed Mr. Trump right from the beginning,” argues strongly that the administration will back and benefit the recreational fishing industry wherever possible.

“The days of the environmental zealots running the show are, for the most part, over,” said a celebratory press statement from RFA Executive Director Jim Donofrio when the news broke that Trump had been elected president.

Though barely 6 months old, the administration has already made moves to begin deregulating ocean fishing. When NOAA set the shortest recreational snapper season ever in the Gulf of Mexico — just three days in June — recreational fishermen lobbied the Trump administration to intervene, which it did. The Commerce Department and Gulf states both agreed to extend the recreational season to 39 days, opening it every weekend and holiday through Labor Day of this year.

While some recreational fishermen called NOAA’s three-day season “ridiculous,” others, including commercial fishermen and environmentalists, say it was necessary to prevent overfishing, and call the federal and state agreement to extend the season an unwise precedent based on politics not sound science.

Trump’s “Commerce Department issued a rule… that permits overfishing of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico by private anglers, while acknowledging that it will delay the [stock] rebuilding schedule for the species by six years,” says Wheeler.

The red snapper season extension especially worries the Ocean Conservancy. Moore labels it as “an incredibly damaging decision,” and in July the NGO decided to challenge the Commerce Department in court.

“We are deeply concerned that the [Trump] administration has chosen to overrule good science, and issue a regulation that is likely illegal and ultimately hurts fishermen. Overfishing by the private recreational sector will harm the health of the stock, and could reduce fishing opportunities for for-hire and commercial fishermen,” says Moore.

Sweeping aside such concerns, ASA’s Leonard applauds the red snapper season extension. He also urges that Congress listen to millions of saltwater anglers and thousands of coastal businesses that depend on saltwater recreational fishing, and pass the MFA. “The federal fisheries management system has never established a system that fits what recreational fishing is all about; and that is what we are hoping to achieve with the Modern Fish Act,” he says.

Wheeler says that the commercial fishing sector opposes the MFA because it removes accountability by the recreational sector, with which it competes for fish. But there are things he likes about the bill. The new law, he says, would support efforts to innovate and improve the use, and incorporation of, new data sources into the sustainable fishery management regimes.

He concedes that it is difficult to assess the overall impact the MFA could have on global fisheries, as it would depend on how specific stocks would ultimately be managed. Among the variables: some fisheries are predominately commercial, such as Pollock; while others are dominated by sport fishing, such as marlin; while still others are mixed, such as red snapper. But because fish know no bounds, it’s likely that any change in U.S. law would also impact the fishery stocks of Mexico, Canada and perhaps other nations.

If Congress really wants to improve fisheries, Moore says, it should not be deregulating, but rather addressing looming threats that are already affecting fish stock, including warming waters due to climate change and ocean acidification. Ocean Conservancy opposes the MFA, it says, because the legislation would change a fisheries management system that is widely regarded as a model for the world thanks to the science-based limits it sets every year.

“Should we remove those [limits], we’ll lose our best tool for conservation,” Moore says, “and we could see the return of the bad times when fishing businesses were failing, coastal communities were struggling, and the health of our oceans was in precipitous decline.”

Recreational anglers regret short red Snapper Season

November 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from Victoria Advocate, May 31, 2017

Recreational Anglers Regret Short Red Snapper Season

By Jessica Priest

 

Victoria Advocate

Recreational anglers of red snapper, act fast.

Thursday is the first day to catch red snapper in federal waters, and Saturday is the last day.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined the red snapper season for federal waters by looking at how much recreational anglers busted last year’s quota and how much they caught in state waters. In Texas’ waters, red snapper may be caught year-round.

NOAA wrote in its announcement that it must manage the fishery because the rate at which red snapper is caught is 2 1/2 times more than it was 10 years ago. The agency wrote it must build upon this success.

But some recreational anglers in the Crossroads think NOAA’s management of the fishery is a joke.

Bink Grimes, a recreational angler and Victoria Advocate columnist, said he thought the commercial sector’s allocation of red snapper was too large. It has 51 percent of the allowable catch while the recreational sector has 49 percent, according to NOAA.

“We’re getting a raw deal on this,” Grimes said. “How many people can get off work on a Thursday and Friday? Basically, most people have one day to fish.”

Michael Kubecka, who is a recreational angler and owns Reel Rush Charters, checks the wind speed and wave heights collected by a weather buoy before heading out.

“Tomorrow is going to be OK, but the other two days are going to be too rough to even fish,” Kubecka said Wednesday.

Kubecka can’t reconcile NOAA’s data with what he’s seen firsthand.

“I dive a lot of the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. I probably have been to every rig within 75 miles of the Matagorda jetties. I’ve never seen so many red snapper,” he said.

Kubecka understood the need to manage red snapper because anglers release those that do not meet the ideal 15-pound weight. Some that are released later die. Still, Kubecka wanted state waters to be extended.

Right now, federal waters begin at 9 nautical miles off the Texas coast.

But U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, wants to do him and his other constituents one better. He wants to return the management of the fishery to the state.

Last month, Farenthold, chaired a hearing about red snapper for the Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy and the Environment.

At the hearing, Mark Ray, chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association’s Texas Chapter, testified that red snapper is a resource the public should have access to. Chris Brown, president of the Seafood Harvesters of America, meanwhile, testified management decisions should be based on need, not want; science, not politics.

NOAA started regulating red snapper in federal waters in the 1980s after anglers noticed their weight had decreased from an average of 10 pounds and they had moved to deeper water.

In 2016, the average weight of a red snapper caught in federal waters was 7.25 pounds.

Farenthold said the hearing confirmed his suspicion that red snapper are over fished in state waters and under fished in federal waters.

“I think there is legislation afoot to return more control to the state,” Farenthold said in an interview with the Victoria Advocate.

But for recreational anglers upset about the length of this season, they’re out of luck.

The Plight of ‘Fish Delight’

November 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from The Washington Free Beacon, April 28, 2017

The Plight of ‘Fish Delight’

By  

The Washington Free Beacon

It’s the kind of headline meant to grab the attention of the president: “Say Goodbye to the Filet-O-Fish.” The New York Times op-ed by Bren Smith, Sean Barrett, and Paul Greenberg warned that the proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had implications for the pollock, the fish used in McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish, which Trump has lovingly called the “fish delight.”

And a delight it is, which is why the headline grabbed my attention as well. Sure, the filet itself can have a bit of a rubbery texture, but the steamed sugar-bun and the tartar sauce with just the right amount of tanginess and that half-slice of melted cheese make the overall product irresistible to many: Actor Nick Offerman, who is otherwise a fierce critic of the Golden Arches, admits to eating them on the road. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has been known to occasionally indulge in the Filet-O-Fish as well. And at 390 calories and 17 grams of protein, what better way to reward a P90X workout?

Smith, Barrett, and Greenberg contend that the Trump administration’s proposed 17 percent cut in funding for NOAA and its subsidiary, the National Marine Fisheries Service, will have an adverse impact not only on the president’s sandwich, but also the fishing industry. “Federal observers oversee 99 percent of the large trawlers fishing for pollock, ensuring that this largest of fisheries maintains an impeccable set of management tools,” they write. “Any funding for NOAA programs that help consumers reconnect to clean, healthy, sustainable seafood swimming off our shores is funding that we cannot afford to lose.”

One of the fears is depleting the ocean of species through overfishing. This was the concern over swordfish (remember when it seemed like almost every restaurant had swordfish steak on the menu?). There was also the panic over oysters, but in the Maryland region, after years of careful monitoring, the oyster is back and better than ever. Have you sampled White Stones yet?

The Seafood Harvesters of America, which represents the interests of commercial fishing, also issued a statement regarding proposed cuts to NOAA. “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 of our coasts,” said Chris Brown, president of Seafood Harvesters of America. “We need more, not fewer, surveys of our fisheries, so we can have accurate stock assessments—the lifeblood of sustainable fisheries.”

In the Times, Smith, Barrett, and Greenberg point out that “only around 9 percent of the seafood available in American markets comes from American fisherman.” It’s something Paul Greenberg expands on in his very readable book, American Catch: There’s a good chance some (if not most) of the fish you eat came from a farm in China or Vietnam. And that can’t be good.

But no one’s arguing that it is. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the president want to stopping the flood of cheap, imported fish and defend the American fisherman. But they are also trying to trim the size of government and reduce inefficiencies and redundancies.

“At the end of the day, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) line items related directly to fisheries management were not significantly cut,” says Molly Block, spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee. “The major reductions targeted duplicative climate-science programs that one could easily argue belong elsewhere than NMFS.” According to the president’s budget brief, the programs cut “are a lower priority than core functions maintained in the budget such as surveys, charting, and fisheries management.”

In other words, the pollock might still be safe, and with it Trump’s beloved fish delight (not to mention fish sticks, which according to Mark Kurlansky in Cod, consist mostly of Pacific pollock). But I have to hand it to Smith, Barrett, and Greenberg: It was a brilliant way to catch the attention of this president—by aiming for his gut. Because if there’s ever a Filet-O-Fish shortage, there will be hell to pay.

Center for Sportfishing Policy defends support of fisheries bill

November 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from Trade Today Only, April 12, 2017

Center for Sportfishing Policy Defends Support of Fisheries Bill

By Trade Today Only Editors

The Center for Sportfishing Policy is issuing a response to attacks on a bipartisan bill introduced last week in Congress that would reform current federal fisheries management policy.

“Last week’s bipartisan introduction of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, or the Modern Fish Act, marked the best opportunity in years for Congress to address serious challenges that have faced the nation’s saltwater recreational fishing community for far too long,” the center said in a statement.

If passed, the Modern Fish Act will reform key aspects of current federal fisheries management policy, allowing for greater public access to America’s waters, enhanced science and a much-needed boost for thousands of businesses, the center said.

Some defenders of the status quo “have voiced over-the-top and misinformed interpretations of the bill,” the statement said.

The bill has come under fire from the nation’s largest organization of commercial seafood harvesters, according to the Portland Press Herald in Maine.

The Seafood Harvesters of America argues that the bill would hamstring federal regional fishery councils’ ability to manage the fishery sector and most species while also limiting the ability to innovate new solutions to overfishing.

“We support the bill sponsors’ effort to obtain additional, more accurate and real-time data on our fisheries and in particular, the recreational sector, which will help better manage our fisheries,” Seafood Harvesters of America executive director Kevin Wheeler said in a statement.

Seafood Harvesters of America Voice Concern Over Modern Fish Act

November 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from PerishableNews.com, April 12, 2017

Seafood Harvesters Of America Voice Concern Over Modern Fish Act

By PerishableNews.com

Washington, D.C. – On April 6, 2017 the commercial fishing community expressed the following concerns to the introduction of a bill that exempts saltwater recreational fishing from sustainable management efforts.

Introduced by Congressmen Garret Graves (R-La.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017” (Modern Fish Act) would hamstring federal regional fishery councils’ ability to manage the fishery sector and most species, while also limiting the ability to innovate new solutions to overfishing.

“We support the bill sponsors’ effort to obtain additional, more accurate and real-time data on our fisheries and in particular, the recreational sector, which will help better manage our fisheries. However, this bill would fundamentally exempt the recreational fishing community from adhering to the basic conservation standards that have been central to the rebuilding of many of our fish stocks. Waiting for fisheries to be overfished before we act led to stock collapses in the past and created economic hardship for the entire fishing industry. We can’t afford to take that route again. Doing so would devastate not only the fisheries themselves, but would have enormous economic impact on the commercial sectors that harvest, process, market, and sell seafood across the nation. While not engaged in the drafting of this legislation, we look forward to working with Congress, NOAA and the fishing community to ensure that we have accountability in both the commercial and recreational sectors so that our fisheries can be a renewable resource for the enjoyment of all Americans,” said Seafood Harvesters of America Executive Director, Kevin Wheeler.

The Harvesters is a broad-based association that represents the following commercial fishing organizations coast-to-coast.

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 Cod Fixed Gear Sector, Inc.
Gulf Fishermen’s Association
Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance
Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association
Midwater Trawlers Cooperative
New Hampshire Groundfish Sectors
North Pacific Fisheries Association (NPFA)
Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association (PSVOA)
Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association
South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association
United Catcher Boats

Source: Seafood Harvesters Of America

Seafood Harvesters of America Opposes Modern Fish Act

November 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from Seafood News, April 10, 2017

Seafood Harvesters of America Opposes Modern Fish Act

By Seafood News

Washington, D.C. – A new bill focused on recreational fishing has drawn strong opposition from the nation’s largest organization of commercial seafood harvesters.

SHA clams that The Modern Fish Act would hamstring federal regional fishery councils’ ability to manage the fishery sector and most species, while also limiting the ability to innovate new solutions to overfishing…

Click here for the full story.

Seafood Harvesters of America opposes bill focused on recreational fishing

November 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from Undercurrent News, April 11, 2017

Seafood Harvesters of America Opposes Bill Focused on Recreational Fishing

By Undercurrent News

A new bill focused on recreational fishing has drawn strong opposition from the nation’s largest organization of commercial seafood harvesters, reports the Portland Press Herald.

The Seafood Harvesters of America claims that the bill, Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, would harm the federal regional fishery council’s ability to manage the fishery sector and most species, while also limiting the ability to innovate new solutions to overfishing.

The bill was submitted April 6 and would change the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to allow for alternative management of waters for recreational fishing, re-examine fisheries allocations and establish exemptions to certain catch limits.

The bill would require regular review of catch allocations, which recreational fishermen say have historically benefited commercial fishermen.

Click here for the full story.

Seafood Harvesters Group Opposes Bill Focused on Recreational Fishing

November 17, 2017 - Published in News Clippings

Article from Portland Press Herald, April 10, 2017

Seafood Harvesters Group Opposes Bill Focused on Recreational Fishing

By Portland Press Hearld Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A new bill focused on recreational fishing has drawn strong opposition from the nation’s largest organization of commercial seafood harvesters.

The Seafood Harvesters of America claims that the bill would hamstring federal regional fishery councils’ ability to manage the fishery sector and most species, while also limiting the ability to innovate new solutions to overfishing.

The bill was submitted April 6 and would change the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. It allows for alternative management of waters for recreational fishing, re-examines fisheries allocations and establishes exemptions to certain catch limits. The bill would require regular review of catch allocations, which recreational fishermen say have historically benefited commercial fishermen.

The harvesters group released a statement late Sunday voicing concern about the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017. The bill was introduced by U.S. Reps. Garret Graves, R-La.; Gene Green, D-Texas; Daniel Webster, R-Fla.; and Rob Wittman, R-Va.

“We support the bill sponsors’ effort to obtain additional, more accurate and real-time data on our fisheries and in particular, the recreational sector, which will help better manage our fisheries,” said Kevin Wheeler, executive director of Seafood Harvesters of America. “However, this bill would fundamentally exempt the recreational fishing community from adhering to the basic conservation standards that have been central to the rebuilding of many of our fish stocks.”

Wheeler said waiting for fisheries to be overfished before regulators took action is what led to stock collapses in the past and created economic hardship for the entire fishing industry.

“We can’t afford to take that route again,” he said. “Doing so would devastate not only the fisheries themselves, but would have enormous economic impact on the commercial sectors that harvest, process, market, and sell seafood across the nation.”

Although the SHA was not involved in drafting the legislation, Wheeler said the organization looks forward to working with Congress, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the fishing community to ensure accountability in both the commercial and recreational sectors.

SHA represent these commercial fishing 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 Cod Fixed Gear Sector Inc., Gulf Fishermen’s Association, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, 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 and United Catcher Boats.

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.