Seafood Harvesters Welcome Leigh Habegger as New Executive Director

May 17, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

(WASHINGTON – May 17, 2018) Seafood Harvesters of America announced today that Leigh Habegger would become the organization’s new executive director.

Most recently, Ms. Habegger served as the Senior Manager of External Affairs for Restore America’s Estuaries. In this role, she advocated for policies that conserve our nation’s estuaries and encourage the sustainable use of our natural resources. Previously, she worked as a lobbyist on fisheries and maritime policy, facilitated work related to highly migratory species, and served as a Knauss Fellow for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) covering oceans, coastal, and fisheries issues.

Ms. Habegger steps into the role vacated by Kevin Wheeler, who recently departed the Seafood Harvesters to take a position as Deputy Chief of Staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Leigh brings strong fisheries policy experience, along with great energy and a solid understanding of our members and the issues they face,” said Seafood Harvesters President Chris Brown. “She’ll be an excellent addition to our team as we broaden the scope and scale of our policy work in coming years.”

The Seafood Harvesters represent 16 leading commercial fishing organizations whose members operate from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico and north to New England. Interested readers can learn more at


Seafood Harvesters Comment Letter on the Administration’s Oil and Gas Leasing Program

March 9, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

March 9, 2018

The Honorable Ryan Zinke
United States Dept. of the Interior
1849 C Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20240
Ms. Kelly Hammerle
National OCS Oil & Gas Leasing Program
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
45600 Woodland Road
Sterling, VA 20166-9216

Dear Secretary Zinke and Ms. Hammerle:

We write to express our deep concern about the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024, and to offer our assistance as you advance your outreach and revision processes.

In our view the Draft Proposed Program released in January gives unbalanced weight to energy production and under-emphasizes a critical directive of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, namely its directive to consider “economic, social, and environmental values of the renewable and nonrenewable resources contained in the outer Continental Shelf, and the potential impacts of oil and gas exploration on the resource values of the outer Continental Shelf and the marine, coastal and human environments” (43 U.S.C. 1344(a)(2)(f).

Those are the environments where the Seafood Harvesters live and work. We represent over 3,900 small businesses, nineteen thousand jobs, almost $500 million in income and $1.25 billion in total economic output. Our members go to sea every day from Alaska to California, Texas to Florida, and from the Carolinas to New England. They bring to market the healthy, domestic, sustainable seafood that feeds America.

Because we represent such diverse fleets—and vessels operated by thousands of independent men and women—we focus on issues of common concern that transcend parochial or partisan politics. Nothing unites us more than the waters we navigate and the commitment we share to protect them. In a very real sense, America’s renewable fish stocks and the habitats that sustain them are national treasures. The species we catch are unchanged for millennia, and their stewardship is a privilege and duty we take seriously. Responsibly managed and harvested, our nation’s “strategic protein reserve” can support us indefinitely.

By contrast, oil supplies are nonrenewable, and offshore exploration poses significant dangers. Where seafloor drilling takes place, leaks and spills occur, and when crude oil is transported by tanker, risks of vessel disablement, accidental groundings and collisions are ever-present.

Offshore drilling threatens fish and fishing jobs, irreplaceable habitat, and the heritage and economies of coastal communities. It also threatens the proven sustainability of many U.S. fisheries that sacrifices and investments made by fishermen have helped to produce. While oil spills barely register on balance sheets of the corporations responsible, they can devastate those least able to withstand them: America’s fishing families and the species we harvest.

While acknowledging the obvious—that our industry is dependent on petroleum products—it is also true that maximizing the exploitation of fossil resources wherever they can be found is an outdated approach that does little to create a more promising future. This is less a political statement than a recognition that our national needs and values are changing. Rapid advances in renewable energy production will increasingly provide policymakers with new opportunities to prioritize food security and rational climate policies over risky oil exploration and large-scale corporate profits.

Plainly put, our nation’s wealth can no longer be measured solely in terms of GDP. It must also be evaluated in terms of accumulated knowledge and our ability to protect, nurture and support our citizens and our natural resources.

It is our understanding that only one meeting seeking public comment has been held in each affected state since release of the Draft Proposed Program. If your goal is to seek meaningful input from coastal communities and the businesses that operate there, then something greater than a minimum-defensible level of public outreach will be required. Because the Seafood Harvesters operate throughout the United States, we are equipped to help as you seek to better understand the “marine, coastal and human environments” most likely to be impacted by offshore oil exploration and drilling.

Please consider us ready to assist your outreach efforts as you continue to revise the leasing program.


Christopher Brown, President

Our Mission and Members

“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.”

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 Assoc.
South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association
United Catcher Boats

Seafood Harvesters Letter Regarding Wicker Amendment to S. 1520

February 27, 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 Sen. Roger Wicker may offer an amendment in the nature of a substitute at the forthcoming markup of the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017 (S. 1520). The Seafood Harvesters’ of America (“SHA”) previously wrote to you to express concerns about that legislation (see attached February 16th letter). We again write to say that while we appreciate the efforts to revise the legislation the proposed changes fail to adequately address our concerns.

Specifically, SHA:

  • Opposes mandatory allocation reviews for fish stocks. (Sec. 101) The revised language is limited to the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. These mandatory reviews only serve to burden councils by imposing costly requirements on them. Section 101 would require the South Atlantic and Gulf Councils to set aside their annual work setting catch limits and seasons for all of their managed fisheries and developing amendments to those fisheries to improve their management in order to conduct allocation reviews on all of their mixed-use fisheries. Allocation reviews should never take priority over seasonal fishery management work and management improvements of a council’s fisheries. Councils already have the ability to review allocations, and they in fact do periodically review allocations. It is therefore not necessary for Congress to impose those reviews on the councils – and in this case only two of the eight regional management councils. Section 101 would simply degrade these Councils’ ability to manage all of their species at the expense of all fishermen.
  • Opposes efforts to remove limited access privilege programs (LAPPs). (Sec. 103) LAPPs are a proven, effective management system for commercial fisheries. The revised legislation would impose a two-year moratorium on LAPPs (with limited exceptions) by the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils. It would also require yet another study by the National Academy of Sciences on LAPPs. LAPPs have proven to be effective management tools for commercial fisheries, and a study moratorium is not necessary, even for mixed use fisheries. If there is a desire to utilize NAS resources to study fisheries, a better use may be to review alternative fishery management regimes for the recreational sector. Section 103 also would require modifying existing LAPPs to conform to the recommendations of a study that the Congress hasn’t seen yet. The Commerce Committee should have an opportunity to review any LAPP study before deciding whether its recommendations should be required to be implemented. For example, section 201(b) of the bill directs the Secretary to implement, to the extent practicable, the recommendations of a completed NAS study on recreational catch data collection. Any study on LAPPs deserve the same careful review by the Committee before changes are made.

SHA’s issue is that neither of these proposals will improve the management of the recreational sector. Nor will they improve management of the commercial sector. They will simply make it more difficult to effectively manage the commercial sector. That should not be an acceptable outcome of a legislative effort.

We therefore hope that the Commerce Committee will reconsider this legislation and will continue to support the commercial fishing sector – a sector that provides American fishing jobs, supports fishing communities, and ensures continued access to fishery resources for consumers and the public.

Thank you for your consideration on this matter.


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

Harvesters Oppose S. 1520 as Introduced

February 16, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

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


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


Harvesters’ Chris Brown to Attend State of the Union

January 28, 2018 - Published in News Clippings

Harvesters’ President Chris Brown and Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in the wheelhouse of Brown’s boat, the F/V Proud Mary

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s guest of honor at the State of the Union Tuesday will be a Narragansett fisherman with four decades fishing out of Point Judith.

Whitehouse on Saturday announced his choice to join him Tuesday night in Washington as Chris Brown, president of the Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association. In a news release, Whitehouse said his pick comes weeks after President Donald Trump moved to expand oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic Coast — a move that the senator says will imperil the Rhode Island commercial fishing industry and its coastal economy.

Brown has been a commercial fisherman since 1978. He serves as president of the Commercial Fisheries Center of Rhode Island and the Seafood Harvesters of America, a national commercial fishermen’s group that promotes sustainable fishing and responsible stewardship of the ocean’s resources.

Read complete article



Recruiting for Executive Director

January 19, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

Position: Full time executive director for the Seafood Harvesters of America and affiliated foundation

Compensation: Competitive and commensurate with experience and qualifications

Location: Washington, D.C. preferred

Application Deadline: Open

The Seafood Harvesters of America is seeking an executive director to oversee the non-profit 501(c)(4) organization and its affiliated foundation. The Harvesters are a leading voice for our nation’s commercial fishing industry.

Position Description

Working closely with the Harvesters’ board of directors and the affiliated (c)(3) board, the executive director works both directly and with consultants to carry out the following:

Government Relations

  • Follow legislation; engage and educate decision-makers on Capitol Hill on legislative priorities
  • Prepare and coordinate with members to deliver comments to Congress on regulations and legislation
  • Ensure the Harvesters are well represented before Congress and agencies; coordinate member fly-ins to Washington, D.C.

Board Relations

  • Ensure that boards are fully informed on activities and operations
  • Develop agendas and materials for board meetings and conference calls
  • Provide support to boards and committees; ensure that materials are prepared and provided in a timely manner
  • Participate with the boards in strategic and operational planning
  • Identify trends, issues, or activities that further the mission of the Harvesters

Organizational Leadership and Administration

  • Oversee daily operations of (c)(4) and (c)(3)
  • Carry out board directives in a timely manner
  • Develop annual budget
  • Ensure that Harvesters’ activities support goals and objectives
  • Oversee vendor contracts


  • Oversee the Harvesters’ fundraising including grants, membership, charitable donations and sponsorships
  • Strategically engage with supporters to strengthen relationships

Member Relations and Communications

  • Promote the Harvesters’ mission, vision and values
  • Serve as point-person for current members and member recruits
  • Maintain consistent member communications including regular email updates
  • Ensure effective public relations and media campaigns to include press release development; quarterly newsletter; regular email updates to members; social media engagement; media inquiries; and website


  • Strong knowledge of legislative process and comfortable interacting with legislators and their staffs
  • Demonstrated ability to build and cultivate strong relationships with funders and donors
  • Strong communications and interpersonal skills
  • Able to identify trends and how they affect the organization
  • Respectful and ethical working style
  • Entrepreneurial, innovative and thoughtful approach


  • Strong knowledge of legislative process
  • Understanding of how to work with a board
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Experience in fundraising and grant administration preferred
  • Experience with successfully responding to fisheries policy questions preferred
  • Proven track record of effectively working with fisheries, marine resources, environmental, academic, or government positions preferred
  • Previous nonprofit management experience preferred
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher required
  • Ability to travel as required

Interested parties, please send resume to (Attn: Ms. Sydney Cook).

Announcement in PDF: Harvesters E.D. Position Description 1.31.18

Kevin Wheeler departs Seafood Harvesters of America for senior policy position at NOAA

January 16, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy


MEDIA CONTACT: Scott Coughlin (206) 228-4141,

(WASHINGTON – January 16, 2018) Seafood Harvesters of America executive director Kevin Wheeler has assumed a new position as Deputy Chief of Staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In that position Wheeler will serve as director of policy for the agency.

“My time with the Harvesters was very rewarding, personally and professionally,” said Wheeler. “I had the chance to work closely and become friends with many of our nation’s most forward-focused fishermen, and I’ll definitely take what I’ve learned from them to my new role as Deputy Chief of Staff at NOAA.”

“It’s been a real pleasure for all of us to have Kevin on board at the Harvesters,” said Chris Brown, the organization’s president. “He was very effective in the role and we look forward to hiring another high-caliber executive director soon.”

The Seafood Harvesters represent over 3,900 small businesses, 19,000 jobs, almost $500 million in income and $1.25 billion in economic output. Its members go to sea every day from the Gulf of Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico and the waters of New England.

Individuals interested in learning more about the executive director position are invited to contact the Harvesters at

Find more at



Seafood Harvesters of America: Letter to Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson, Committee on Commerce

December 14, 2017 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

The Honorable John Thune, Chairman
The Honorable Bill Nelson, Ranking Member
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson,

As members of the Seafood Harvesters of America, we write in support of the nomination for Barry Myers to serve as Under-Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Seafood Harvesters represent commercial fishing organizations and fishermen across the nation, from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico and out on Georges Bank. Our members are privileged to go to sea every day, bringing to market healthy, domestic, sustainable seafood. Our commercial fishermen depend upon and live with accountability in our fisheries, transparency in the regulatory process and support science-based management so that future generations will have access to sustainable fisheries.

We believe that Mr. Myers can successfully lead NOAA given his experience in directing a world-class private sector science-based company; his expertise in managing and motivating researchers and forecasters; and his success in delivering timely information to businesses and the public. Given that many of NOAA’s biggest challenges can be addressed through better management, streamlined decision making and leveraging private sector assets, Mr. Myer’s is an excellent choice.

Mr. Myers testimony before your committee last week highlighted his support for science in advancing monitoring, research and forecasting in a rapidly changing environment. Warming waters, loss of habitat and migrating species are major challenges for our nation’s fisheries and we are hopeful that Mr. Myers can leverage his private-sector experience to modernize NOAA’s fishery data systems to reduce uncertainty and help maximize sustainable yields. Mr. Myers’ embracement of technologies to advance transparency and accountability in our fisheries could dramatically improve management of mixed-use species such as summer flounder and red snapper.

We share Mr. Myers’ priority for reducing our nation’s seafood supply deficit as it is critical that our fishermen have the support necessary to compete in the global seafood marketplace.

We greatly appreciate your leadership and urge the Senate to confirm Mr. Myers before the holidays so that NOAA can have the strategic leadership necessary to address the challenges facing our nation’s fisheries and fishing communities.


Bob Alverson Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association Chris Brown Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association
Jack Cox South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association
Keith “Buddy” Guindon Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholder’s Alliance
Bob Kehoe Purse Seine Vessel Owners’ Association
Heather Mann Midwater Trawlers Cooperative
Brent Paine United Catcher Boats
Edward Poulsen Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers
Rebecca Skinner Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association
Brett Veerhusen North Pacific Fisheries Association
Will Ward Gulf Fishermen’s Association

Seafood Harvesters of America: Letter to Chairman Lamborn and Ranking Member Huffman, U.S. House of Representatives

December 14, 2017 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

The Honorable Doug Lamborn, Chairman
The Honorable Jered Huffman, Ranking Member
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Natural Resources – Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans
1522 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Chairman Lamborn and Ranking Member Huffman,

On behalf of the Seafood Harvesters of America, I am writing to convey our positions on legislation to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) and to address the management of recreational fisheries including Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Seafood Harvesters of America represent fishermen across the nation that are privileged to go to sea every day to bring to market healthy, domestic, sustainable seafood. Our commercial fishermen depend upon and live with accountability in our fisheries and transparency in the regulatory process and believe that MSA has been central to the success our nation has achieved in rebuilding our fish stocks.

With regards to MSA reauthorization, the Harvesters agree with the need to replace the 10-year rebuilding deadline with one based on biology and life cycle of species. Science needs to guide management decisions. Consequently, Fishery Management Plans should rebuild populations within a life-cycle of the species, with sufficient backstops and without loopholes such as “to the extent practicable” to ensure overfishing does not take place.

The Harvesters believe that replacing the term “overfished” with “depleted” is a wise action as it eliminates unfairly placing blame on fishing for the decline in fish stocks, which are frequently the result of changing environmental conditions rather than overfishing.

We agree with efforts to increase transparency in the council process and support extending efforts to require all councils votes to be recorded roll call votes to assure accountability and transparency in the process.

The Harvesters are concerned with the top-down national marine monument designation process and support having MSA guide efforts to set aside marine protected areas through the essential fish habitat process. Furthermore, we support having the regional fishery management councils determine whether fishing should be restricted in all marine protected areas.

The Harvesters believe that improvements in gaining more accurate and timely data on commercial and recreational fishing data is critical for better managing our nation’s fisheries. Data modernization, technology development and implementation of smart phone applications could add tremendous value and significantly decrease uncertainty in estimating landings. transparency and accountability are essential for successful fishery management as reducing uncertainty provide tangible economic benefits by maximizing sustainable yields.

The Harvesters would support an MSA reauthorization that focused on the aforementioned areas. However, we have significant concerns about proposals to alter the annual catch limit requirements. ACL’s have been central to recent gains in fish stocks across the nation. We also oppose efforts to restrict the councils’ discretion to use the full suite of management tools at their disposal, including catch shares. Limited access privilege programs have been very successful in some regions, but may not be appropriate in other fisheries and thus should be left to the discretion of the councils. The Harvesters are also concerned about legislative proposals that place unfunded mandates on the councils to conduct activities that they do not have the staff or resources to complete, thus getting in the way of their existing core functions.

We are concerned with the hurdles places on the use of exempted fishing permits (EFP) as proposed in H.R.2023. EFPs have been an effective tool for testing new technologies and management schemes for fisheries, which already have significant oversight and approval protocols through the councils and NOAA. We should be streamlining not restricting opportunities to be innovative.

With regards to legislative efforts to better manage the red snapper fishery, we should not lose sight that the fishery has rebounded dramatically over the past decade, while acknowledging that the stock health in the eastern Gulf is still in trouble. Consequently, we cannot endorse the Snapper Act (H.R.3588) as currently written because it does not hold the recreational sector accountable for fishing within the annual catch limits. The commercial and for-hire charter sectors have always fished within our catch limits and fairness dictates that the same standard should stand for the recreational sector. Failure to do so will lead to overfishing and could reverse the gains in the stock that have been achieved.

We greatly appreciate your leadership in promoting the best interests of the commercial fishing industry, including protecting the healthy ecosystems upon which our fisheries thrive. We hope that Congress can uphold its valued tradition of passing a bipartisan MSA reauthorization.


Kevin R. Wheeler
Executive Director

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?



  • 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.”

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