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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

Written testimony of Robert E. Dooley, Board Member, Seafood Harvesters of America as Submitted to House Committee on National Resources Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, May 1, 2019

May 1, 2019 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

Chairman Huffman, Ranking Member McClintock, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today regarding the state of U.S. fisheries. My name is Bob Dooley. I am here today in my capacity as a lifelong commercial fisherman along the West Coast and in Alaska, and as a Board Member of the Seafood Harvesters of America. I was recently appointed by the Secretary of Commerce to serve as a California representative on the Pacific Fishery Management Council, but will not be representing my work in that capacity.

I have lived in Half Moon Bay, CA my entire life and was a commercial fisherman for more than 40 years before recently retiring. My family has been active in commercial fishing and its supporting businesses on the West Coast for more than 70 years. Over the course of my fishing career, I have owned and operated several fishing vessels with my brother, John, including vessels in the Bering Sea Pollock and Pacific Cod fisheries, the West Coast Pacific Whiting fishery, and the Dungeness Crab fishery.

The Seafood Harvesters of America is a national commercial fishing organization with 17 member organizations participating in fisheries off every coast. We are focused on federal fisheries policy and committed to the stewardship of fisheries resources and accountability in our nation’s fishing industry.

I would like to begin my testimony by stating that in the past 40 years, we, as a fishing industry, have made enormous strides in the management of our fisheries resources for their long-term sustainability, thanks in large part to management principles established in the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). Through its successive reauthorizations, industry-supported changes were made to ensure that not only are the fish stocks responsibly managed, but that our businesses are profitable and we are able to provide consumers access to one of the greatest sources of renewable protein: wild caught seafood. We owe the current success of our nation’s fisheries to the forethought of our predecessors who had the wherewithal to include conservative guardrails in the last reauthorization.

As we look to the future of our U.S. fisheries, we must be mindful of our history of overfishing and prevent a return to those days. We must recognize the current success of our fisheries and stand proud as the global leader in supplying sustainable seafood to consumers around the country and abroad. And, we must prepare for the changes in our marine environment as the climate continues to change. To that end, I’d like to focus my testimony on the following issues:

  1. The success of the MSA
  2. Rising Observer Program costs
  3. Climate change impacts on fisheries
  4. NOAA funding

The Success of the MSA

The Magnuson Stevens Act is an excellent piece of legislation. I stated this last time I testified before the House Natural Resources Committee in 2013, and I stand by this statement today.

MSA is our nation’s foundational fisheries law and we ensure a plentiful and lasting seafood harvest for this country through the science-based management system it prescribes. We don’t need massive changes to the law; rather, we need to work on the interpretation and implementation of the existing law.

When we put accountability at the center of our fishing practices and the management of our fish stocks, we make economic success possible. When we ensure the long-term sustainability and growth of our fish stocks by using science-based management measures, we are able to grow both the commercial and recreational fishing industries.

We have seen the success of the MSA in a number of regions, but I want to touch on one in particular that is close to my heart.

I grew up fishing for West Coast groundfish. My family was a fishing family, so it was the natural path for me. Before I was allowed to work on boats, I worked with my older brother, John, in my mom’s restaurant and crab stand while my dad went out to fish. My uncle was a commercial fish buyer and a recreational charter boat operator – we all worked the restaurant, the docks, and the boats in support of the family business.

The summer I turned 11, I got my first fishing job on the back deck of the Monterey Clipper and I never looked back. After that summer, my brother and I started a lifelong partnership, starting off trawling in the West Coast Groundfish fishery in the “Wild West” days of fishing. There wasn’t a lot of fisheries management back then, and certainly not at all how we think of it today. This was before catch limits were even contemplated; we had no sense of how much fish we were taking out of the water. Even in the late 70s, we could sense the declining catch rates in the groundfish fishery. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that we put the pieces together: the groundfish complex (includes many rockfish species, flounder, sablefish, and sole) was so overfished that we knew we had to nearly halt fishing. In 2000, the fishery was declared a disaster and the Pacific Council implemented severe catch restrictions; catch limits were so low it wasn’t even worth going out for these fish.

Fast forward to last fall. NOAA announced that many of the West Coast groundfish complex species had recovered ahead of their rebuilding timelines and as a result, the Agency proposed increased catch limits for a number of species (these went into effect at the beginning of this year). NOAA originally proposed a 45+ year rebuilding timeline for the long-lived rockfish species in this complex, but in less than 10 years, many of these species have been declared recovered. The last two species left on the rebuilding list will likely be taken off next year after the next stock assessment.

Significantly higher quotas for a number of groundfish species means an estimated $60 million increase in fishing income for commercial fishermen across the three West Coast states and an increase in the variety of fish available to consumers in grocery stores and restaurants throughout the region. This fishery is now also MSC-certified, providing consumer confidence in the sustainability and harvest practices of this fishery. And on top of all this, it is estimated that the increase in quota means upwards of an additional 200,000 recreational fishing trips each year in Southern California.

This recovery was the result of following the letter and the spirit of the MSA. Commercial fishermen, processors, and coastal communities made sacrifices, but we knew it was the right thing to do. The fish stocks were hurting and our catches were dwindling. Industry worked with NOAA and we trusted their science to put us on the road to rebuilding the groundfish fishery and here we are today — we’ve grown the pie so all sectors benefit.

There are some who want to argue for reauthorizing Magnuson to better address the differences in the commercial and recreational fishing industries and we agree, there are important differences. So, let’s have that conversation about how to better manage recreational fisheries. But, that conversation does not mean we need to change the core principles of MSA. We should be looking towards improving the science and the catch accounting in the recreational sector rather than removing accountability measures and regard for the health of our stocks.

The core conservation tenants of the MSA are proven. MSA is working as we intended it to work. Sure, we can work on the implementation of certain parts of the law, but I hope that if you take away one thing from my testimony today, it’s that we’re seeing results. As we improve data collection through innovative technologies and methods, as we improve accountability in all sectors, and as we continue to base our fisheries management on science, we will continue to see positive results.

When we are able to maintain the health of our fish stocks, every sector benefits and we can help ensure the long-term sustainability of our fisheries resources and our businesses.

Rising Observer Program Costs

For the commercial fishing industry across the country, the rising cost of observers is a big concern. And, it’s a concern for NOAA, as well, because they are still paying for human observers in some regions.

Commercial fishermen are committed to getting NOAA the observer data they require and need in order to manage our fisheries. However, as costs continue to rise, upwards of $500/day in some regions and fisheries, carrying these observers becomes an economic hardship, especially for small boats.

We think there’s a better way and we have been working tirelessly with NOAA and industry partners over the past decade to develop and implement electronic technologies for monitoring and reporting our catch data. Employing electronic monitoring and reporting systems on our commercial vessels has the potential to significantly reduce costs for vessel owners and improve data transmission to NOAA.

The prevalence and scale of pilot projects is indicative of the commitment from the industry, from NOAA, and from the private sector to help these electronic technologies succeed. Indeed, there are electronic monitoring pilot projects around the country, including several on the West Coast. Specifically, United Catcher Boats and Midwater Trawlers Cooperative have received an Exempted Fishing Permit, or EFP, from NOAA that allows for the use of EM systems onboard mid-water trawl boats fishing for Whiting to monitor and estimate the number and amount of discards in the Whiting fishery. This program has benefited fishermen in the Whiting fishery by reducing costs considerably ($576,956 in savings in 2015) and eliminating the problems that accompany human observers including scheduling and obtaining an at-sea human observer, and having to house and feed them onboard vessel with limited space. In the future, we hope that NOAA can more fully use these videos to inform catch accounting and stock assessments.

When working to implement EM, we’ve seen some great successes, but we’ve also run into a few problems. We’ve seen NOAA put off implementation of EM technologies because they are trying to build the Cadillac of electronic systems when all we really need is a Chevy workhorse. And in fact, we have built that Chevy in a number of pilot projects and proven its abilities. What we are tackling now is working with the agency to understand how we can help them fully utilize the electronic systems and data in a more efficient, real-time way to inform the management of our stocks.

At the Pacific Council, we are working with NOAA to determine how to pay for the costs associated with EM. Traditionally, the industry in this region has covered the costs of observers and we’re willing to continue covering these costs, but we are concerned that if NOAA has a blank check from the industry, they will add zeros to the cost and we’ll end up with a Cadillac system in 10 years instead of the Chevy in 12 months. We should be working to develop and implement fishery-specific systems that get NOAA the data they need, not necessarily that they want.

Tied into the cost of these systems are the issues of data storage and data review. Industry has been working with NOAA to try to determine a workable solution for both sides so that NOAA has access to the data they need for a reasonable amount of time, while the industry doesn’t end up paying for years’ worth of unnecessary storage. Additionally, the issue of data review, particularly who reviews the data and who pays for the review, must still be addressed. On the West Coast, industry will likely pay for data review, but NOAA is concerned that because industry is paying for the review, it may be biased. Our concern is that NOAA will then require industry to pay for a third-party audit of the review, adding an additional financial burden on the industry. Clearly, we still have a few things to work out with the Agency and we are willing to work with them to find common-sense solutions, but regardless of who pays the tab—industry or government—we must have a common goal of reducing costs while achieving a reasonable amount of certainty in our data and management.

Electronic technologies have the ability to vastly improve fisheries management—EM can be more reliable, cost-effective, and scalable. Additionally, EM has the ability to increase monitoring coverage and improve data robustness, helping to reduce uncertainty and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of fisheries management. As an industry, we need to use our vessels as platforms of opportunity to aid in the ultimate goal of improving management while reducing costs to the industry and to NOAA.

Climate change impacts on fisheries

Commercial fishermen are some of the first to tell you about the changes on the water in recent years as our oceans respond to a changing climate. On the West Coast, we’ve seen whales move closer to shore as their food source migrates landward, shellfish farms are having to adjust the pH of the water in which they’re growing, and we’ve seen a rise in levels of domoic acid in our Dungeness crab fishery. These impacts, and others, affect our ability to find, catch, and supply markets and consumers with fresh seafood.

To help the industry respond and adapt to some of these changes, the Pacific Fishery Management Council recently formed the Climate and Communities Core Team (Ad Hoc CCCT) to “manage a scenario planning exercise on the topic of shifting stock availability (including shifting distribution) across species, FMPs, and communities across the west coast” (PFMC website, 2019). The goal of this ad hoc committee is not necessarily to prescribe outcomes, because we may not know what those outcomes will be, but to develop a framework, tools, and products to help our region more readily respond to the changes we’re seeing on the water. I am hopeful that the committee’s report this September will prove fruitful and productive.

The work that the Ad Hoc CCCT is doing, as well as the work happening elsewhere at the Council, and the local, state, and regional levels, is a result of the accountability in our fisheries over the past decades. We have a much better idea of what’s going on in our fisheries, so we are able to quickly identify changes and variabilities in our fisheries. As we continue to monitor and track our fisheries and ocean conditions, we will be able to better model and predict future changes and then manage our fishing behavior appropriately.

Earlier this year, the California Dungeness crab fishery was forced to shut down due to interactions with whales. Changes in the ocean brought the bait closer to shore, which also brought the whales closer to shore where crab pots are set, this combined with season delays due to domoic acid present in certain areas, created the perfect storm for whale interactions with crab pots. The industry recognized the problem and sat down at the table with regulators and NGOs to come up with a solution. But before we were able to come to a workable solution, a lawsuit shut the fishery down.

In the Bering Sea, changes in the ice edge formation may have impacts on the productivity of the system and pollock stocks in the area. Water temperature and ice formations have changed over the past few years in the Bering Sea and the ice edge that normally forms on the Bering Sea shelf as a result of the frigid wind from the north, has not formed the last two years. Researchers are working to better understand if this ice edge, not just the upwelling that happens in these waters, helps to fuel the primary productivity that feeds the system and aggregates these huge schools of fish. Questions, like “Will the fish aggregations move to find more productive waters? Does pollock recruitment suffer? What tools are necessary to prepare for such changes?”, are just a few of the questions researchers are asking.

The West Coast isn’t alone in managing fishing gear interactions, disease outbreaks, and changing ocean temperatures and chemistry. Fishermen across the country are witnessing changes on and in the water. What we’d like to see across the country isn’t lawsuits and their resulting fishery closures, but collaborative research and partnerships to help add to the growing body of science and research that will help the fishing industry better respond to the changes we’re witnessing. The changes witnessed are new and they don’t always happen regularly. We need to be in the business of watching these changes, gathering data, researching, and modeling with the aim to develop the tools to help the industry productively deal with and adapt to the changes.

We must recognize that fisheries are part of the ecosystem. We must provide the resources and the tools for the industry to continue its business and to remain the frontline stewards of our marine resources. We can’t turn fisheries on and off and expect them, and the communities that rely on them, to remain viable.

I am hopeful that the Ad Hoc CCCT can identify what tools we are missing out on the West Coast to be able to be responsive to the changes in our marine environment so that we can continue to fish without detriment to other organisms. And I hope other Councils continue their important work on researching and better understanding the changes occurring off our coasts.

I encourage Congress to support the work Councils and NOAA are doing to develop processes and frameworks so that our fishing industry can better respond and adapt to what’s happening in and on our waters. By providing the resources necessary, you are signaling strong support for the science and the work done by our fishery management councils and NOAA, and empowering them to ensure our stocks are as healthy as they can be. In return, our businesses are able to continue to grow and support our coastal communities, and to provide quality domestic seafood to consumers across the country.

NOAA Funding

I recognize this is not an appropriations hearing, but I would be remiss if I did not, at the very least, mention the interconnectedness of good fisheries management and NOAA funding. NOAA funding is at the heart of the success of our nation’s fisheries management system. Put simply, without adjusting NOAA’s budget to keep up with facilities, labor, and program costs, the Agency is hamstrung and cannot carry out their core mission and functions.

The FY20 budget proposed by the President last month represents a nearly 18% cut across NOAA’s discretionary budget from FY19 enacted levels. A similar percentage cut is proposed for NMFS’s FY20 budget. Without adequately funding NOAA, we fail to equip the agency with the resources it needs to conduct research, gather data, and run models in order to make informed, responsible management decisions.

Tightening budgets at NMFS have real impacts on the Agency’s ability to carry out parts of its core mission. Look at the North Pacific region, for example. Here, surveys for targeted species have historically occurred annually. These annual surveys are critical for the effective management of fish stocks in the region, providing managers with robust data used to set the catch limits in those fisheries for the following fishing year. These surveys significantly contribute to some of the most well-managed fisheries in our country. However, at recent Council meetings, there have been discussions examining how to prioritize which stocks are surveyed each year because NOAA may not have the funding to keep up with the number of bottom trawl and midwater acoustic trawl surveys necessary to cover each targeted species annually. NOAA typically uses four vessels to complete these surveys, but one of their ships, the Oscar Dyson, has been out of commission and unable to conduct surveys. To make matters worse, survey tracts have historically been 10 nautical miles (nm) apart, but because NMFS can’t afford the ship time, the tracts are being widened to 20 nm — so that means we’re halving the data NOAA receives from these critical surveys. We’re short-changing science, hamstringing our scientists and managers, and hindering our ability to conduct timely, robust stock assessments.

This, in turn, increases uncertainty and causes lower annual allocations to account for this uncertainty. Those fish are there, but withheld from the fishery, causing economic losses in the industry and to the nation, not to mention, a lower availability of quality seafood.

We’re seeing a similar trend on the West Coast. At the last Pacific Council meeting, we were informed that two out of our four survey vessels will be eliminated for the next two years. Again, we’re seeing the research capacity of NMFS cut in half. At this same Council meeting, the SSC announced that the sigma value, the scientific uncertainty buffer built into catch limits, will increase because our surveys are outdated. In the past, we’ve been able to deal with the buffer built into our catch limits because we had the vessels and the resources to conduct timely stock assessments. But as NOAA’s budget flatlines or worse, shrinks, and they are unable to repair damaged vessels or update their technologies, our ability to fish takes a hit. The Council will have to add up to a 20% buffer to catch limits for stocks with assessments older than 10 years.

That hurts our businesses and our communities. NMFS’s primary job is science. Surveys and stock assessments are arguably the most critical thing NMFS does. They are the lifeblood of our fisheries and our businesses. Without adequate funding, we will be operating under uncertainty and poor science.

In 2017, NOAA completed its largest single-year total of stock assessments, including 31 first- assessments on mostly data-limited reef species (NOAA website, 2019). NOAA’s budget that year was $1.2 billion more than what the President’s budget proposes. If we want to grow the Blue Economy and have the growth based on real science and research, we cannot afford to hamstring the agency responsible for managing the resources on which the Blue Economy depends.

I have heard Members on both sides of the aisle and fishermen who fish for sport and for their livelihoods all say that when there is good science on the front end, we see good management results on the back end. I wholeheartedly agree. But our ability to feed good data into our management systems around the country depends on having the resources to do so. It is critical to fully fund NOAA. Without continued robust investments, we will see our management systems begin to fail not only for our resource management responsibilities, but ultimately for the businesses and communities who rely on those healthy fishery resources.


Each fishing vessel is a business. I’m here today because I want to see the long-term sustainability and growth of not just our fisheries resources, but each business that operates on the water. Fisheries in the U.S. are rebuilding and beginning to do well thanks in large part to a strong Magnuson Stevens Act, and we’ve come a long way since the MSA was first passed in 1976. We’ve come a long way from the days of overcapitalization, overfishing, and crashing fish stocks. We’ve rebuilt 42 stocks and many more are on the way to being rebuilt. We are expanding access to fish for commercial and recreational anglers. Most importantly, healthy, sustainable seafood is widely available to U.S. consumers.

Looking ahead, we have many opportunities to build on the successes we’ve seen in our fisheries. With improvements in electronic technologies on fishing vessels, we have the opportunity to provide more accountable, robust, and affordable data to fishery managers in near real-time to aid in more efficient analysis and management of our stocks. With the development of climate change frameworks and tools, fishery managers can better adapt their management recommendations and our businesses will have the opportunity to withstand changing ocean conditions. With good investments at NOAA, the agency will have the resources it needs to responsibly and sustainably manage our nation’s fisheries resources under the MSA. Maintaining the core principles established under Magnuson will ensure our fisheries resources and the businesses that depend on healthy fish stocks will continue long into the future.

Media Advisory: Robert Dooley Testimony to House Natural Resources Committee on State of U.S. Fisheries

May 1, 2019 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

To: Editors, Reporters and Fishing Industry Stakeholders
From: Leigh Habegger, Exec. Director, Seafood Harvesters of America
Re: Robert Dooley Testimony to House Natural Resources Committee on State of U.S. Fisheries

On Wednesday, May 1 at 2:00 PM EST the House Natural Resources Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee will convene a hearing entitled: “The State of Fisheries.” Full information and a streaming link for the hearing are available here. The hearing will also stream on Facebook:

This oversight hearing will feature two panels, the first to focus on international fisheries issues and the second on successes and challenges in the U.S. fishing industry.

Seafood Harvesters of America board member and lifelong commercial fisherman Robert (Bob) Dooley will provide testimony regarding the U.S. fishing industry, specifically:

  • The success of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, our nation’s foundational fisheries law;
  • The need to address fishermen-borne costs of federal fisheries observers and how electronic monitoring technologies can help alleviate those costs while improving fisheries management outcomes;
  • The impacts of climate change on our fisheries; and
  • The need to fully fund NOAA operations.

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

We appreciate your attention to this hearing and the topics to be addressed. Please let me know if you have questions or require additional information.

Leigh Habegger
(336) 414-2681

The Seafood Harvesters of America represents 17 commercial fishing organizations from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico and north to New England. Find more at

Seafood Harvesters Statement on Passage of Senate Bill 1520

December 6, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy,Policy

For immediate release: December 6, 2018

Media contact: Leigh Habegger, Executive Director, (336) 414-2681,

Seafood Harvesters Statement on Passage of Senate Bill 1520

Today, the Senate passed S. 1520, the “Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017,” introduced by Senator Wicker. Its passage reflects the result of staff, Senators, and stakeholders coming together to arrive at a strong, bipartisan agreement on the bill and we greatly appreciate the good faith effort shown on both sides of the aisle.

The bill provides opportunities for stakeholders to provide input and review fisheries management strategies. As we’ve seen today, working together and bringing stakeholders to the table provides better outcomes for all. We applaud these changes and thank Senator Wicker for including them.

“We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Wicker, his staff, and the Commerce Committee in the next Congress on implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and improving fisheries management around the country,” said Christopher Brown, President of Seafood Harvesters of America. “Fishing is improved through the addition of more fish, not less, and we will continue to work with Senator Wicker and his staff to ensure our fisheries resources grow for all to enjoy.”

“This bill is the result of long hours and many negotiations on both sides of the aisle, and the consideration and incorporation of feedback from stakeholders. We are grateful for the diligence of Senate staff to produce legislation that enjoys such bipartisan support,” said Leigh Habegger, Executive Director of Seafood Harvesters.

The Seafood Harvesters of America represents 17 fishing organizations from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico and north to New England. Find more at


Seafood Harvesters Applaud House Passage of Coast Guard Authorization Act

November 27, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

MEDIA CONTACT: Leigh Habegger,, (336) 414-2681

Seafood Harvesters Applaud House Passage of Coast Guard Authorization Act

(WASHINGTON – November 27, 2018) On Tuesday night, the House of Representatives passed the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, and commercial fishermen across the country breathed a sigh of relief. This bill, identical to one that passed the Senate on November 14th, provides owners and operators of commercial fishing vessels and vessels under 79’ long with long-sought relief from unnecessary and burdensome regulations for incidental discharges and provides updates to safety compliance measures. House passage of this bill signals the strong bipartisan support it enjoys in both chambers of Congress.

Seafood Harvesters of America applauds the work done by Representatives and Senators alike to see this bill to the finish line. “This legislation authorizes our seagoing partners in the Coast Guard to continue their important safety and enforcement work, it provides for the EPA to continue critical scientific research, it maintains strict environmental protections for our waters, and it frees up our members from unwarranted and unreasonable regulations,” said Leigh Habegger, Executive Director of Seafood Harvesters of America, a national group representing commercial fishermen. “We are grateful for the hard work of our champions in both the House and Senate and we urge President Trump to sign it into law in short order.”


The Seafood Harvesters’ earlier statement on Senate passage of the Coast Guard Authorization bill can be found here.

The Seafood Harvesters of America represents 17 commercial fishing organizations from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico and north to New England. Find more at

Seafood Harvesters Applaud Passage of Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018

November 14, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

For immediate release: November 14, 2018

Media contact: Leigh Habegger, Executive Director, (336) 414-2681,

Seafood Harvesters Applaud Passage of Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018

Today, the Senate passed the “Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018.” This bill updates and authorizes U.S. Coast Guard activities and provides long-sought relief for the fishing industry by providing a permanent exemption for fishing vessels from the Environmental Protection Agency’s incidental discharge regulations. It also increases the maximum length for vessels that must be maintained to class, and provides for regional and fishery specific alternative safety compliance programs to be developed.

“The passage of this bill is a breakthrough for the commercial fishing industry and it’s been a long time coming,” said Chris Brown, President of the Seafood Harvesters of America. “We are grateful to the numerous Senators who worked hard to permanently exempt fishing vessels from onerous regulations that would require us to monitor and log any water running off boat decks. We now have regulatory certainty for our businesses instead of operating under stopgap exemptions to these regulations. We applaud the Senate for passing this bill that also addresses our concerns with vessel classification and the development of the alternative safety compliance program.

The bipartisan nature of this bill is reflected in its maintenance of strong environmental protections for our nation’s waters, along with the reduction of nonsensical regulatory burdens on the commercial fishing industry. The bill effectively safeguards our waters from invasive species and provides the Great Lakes states flexibility with regards to the discharge of ballast water standards. Additionally, the bill increases the maximum length of vessels that must be maintained to vessel class standards for newly built vessels and includes language that allows alternative safety compliance programs to be developed in regional and fishery specific manners for existing vessels.

Seafood Harvesters Executive Director, Leigh Habegger, applauded the bipartisan bill, noting that the national commercial fishermen’s organization that represents over 3,900 small businesses and $1.25 billion in economic output has been pushing for enactment of a USCG reauthorization bill for five years. “Nothing unites fishermen more than the waters we navigate and the commitment we share to protect them.” Habegger said. “With the passage of this bill, fishermen are freed from the fear of having to remain tied to the docks from erroneous regulations. They can now focus on responsibly harvesting domestic seafood enjoyed by millions of consumers every day. This bill took a lot of work and we appreciate the sincere efforts and ongoing negotiations on both sides of the aisle. We look forward to working with the EPA and the Coast Guard through the implementation process.”

The Seafood Harvesters of America represents 17 fishing organizations from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico and north to New England. Find more at


Seafood Harvesters Letter on Coast Guard Reauthorization

November 14, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

November 14, 2018

Dear Chairman Thune, Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Nelson, and Ranking Member Carper,

We understand that the Senate will soon consider the Coast Guard Reauthorization bill, which contains provisions vital to the commercial fishing industry. We urge the Senate to pass this bill.

We strongly support the bill’s permanent exemption for small vessels and fishing vessels from incidental discharge regulations and believe it is a common-sense solution to the regulatory uncertainty we have faced in past years. A permanent exemption for these vessels will enable fishermen around the country to focus on providing the country with sustainable, wild caught seafood rather than applying for permits for water that runs off boat decks or navigating burdensome red tape. This permanent exemption provides the much-needed regulatory assurance that we will not have to worry about non-compliance every few years when temporary exemptions expire.

We are also very supportive of the changes to vessel classification for newly built vessels and the Coast Guard’s alternative safety compliance program for existing vessels. By increasing the length of newly built vessels to be built to class standards but not maintained to such standards, the Senate has provided a pathway for vessel owners to replace old and outdated vessels with new, safer, and more modern vessels. Additionally, vessel owners will effectively avoid incurring additional costs associated with maintaining boats to class standards that provide few, if any, additional safety benefits. We are also very pleased to see language in this bill that allows for alternative safety compliance programs to be developed in specific regions for specific fisheries. Having the ability to tailor these programs to specific fisheries will help improve safety in these fisheries while avoiding unnecessary blanket rules and regulations. Though we supported language that directs the USCG to work together with the fishing industry when the alternative compliance program is being developed, we believe the current elements in the Senate bill go a long way to developing a useful vessel safety program for the existing U.S. commercial fishing fleet.

We applaud the strong bipartisan work that has gone into crafting this bill. The result of this hard work is a bill which retains strong environmental protections safeguarding our nation’s waters while simultaneously providing industry relief from burdensome and unnecessary regulations.

Ensuring that our nation’s waters and aquatic habitats, both fresh and marine, remain healthy and productive is critical for every single fishing business around the country – our businesses depend on it. We appreciate the work to remain committed to strong environmental protections – addressing concerns about invasive species, minimizing spillage and leaks into our waters, and tackling pollutants in our waters – while simultaneously providing regulatory relief for fishing businesses.

We are deeply grateful to all of the Senators who have crafted a commonsense Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill that protects our environment and our businesses. We hope to see it pass in short time. Thousands of seafood harvesters across the country will breathe a sigh of relief when this bill is signed into law.



Christopher Brown, President

Seafood Harvesters of America



Senate Commerce Majority Members

Senate Commerce Minority Members

Senate Environment and Public Works Majority Members

Senate Environment and Public Works Minority Members

Seafood Harvesters Oppose H.R. 200

July 9, 2018 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

Dear Member of Congress:

We understand that H.R. 200, the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act,” is on the schedule for floor debate and a vote on Wednesday afternoon. The Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA) remains staunchly opposed to this bill as it would do very little to improve the management of the recreational fishing industry while severely undermining the sacrifices the commercial fishing industry has made to ensure that we are sustainably harvesting fisheries resources.

The 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.

In addition to the threats posed by H.R. 200 as we’ve outlined in previous letters (below), we are concerned with a proposed amendment to H.R. 200 that will be debated during the floor vote. Specifically, we are concerned with Amendment #26 which directs the General Accountability Office to develop a report to Congress on the “resource rent” of Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPPs) in the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast, and examine “fiduciary conflicts of interest” on these Regional Fishery Management Councils. First, by studying only LAPPs without also studying recreational fishing and non-LAPP fisheries, this language unfairly singles out LAPPs and is aimed at attacking these successful programs. Commercial fishermen already pay for their commercial permits, quota, licenses, vessel registration, business taxes, observer costs, among other costs. On top of that, fishermen in LAPPs pay an additional fee to recover costs of administering the program. There is no reason to limit an analysis of the fishing value extracted to LAPPs and such a biased analysis would lead to false conclusions. Second, the Regional Fishery Management Councils were purposely created to involve fishery stakeholders from all sectors in the Council process to guide policy and regulations. The process by which Council Members are appointed is thorough and well-vetted, and already requires financial disclosure of their fishing interests. This language shows a misunderstanding of the Council structure designed within the Magnuson Stevens Act (MSA). Targeting commercial and charter fishermen representatives on Councils for these two regions would not only undermine the intended Council appointment process to encourage stakeholder participation in management of our fisheries resources, but set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country.

As we’ve outlined in our previous letters, the Harvesters remain opposed to H.R. 200 because of a number of sections that pose a direct threat to sustainable fisheries management:

  • H. R. 200 risks overfishing and imperils rebuilding of overfished species
    • Despite significant flexibility already incorporated into the MSA, Section 303 establishes multiple exceptions to the rebuilding timeline. Congress previously strengthened the rebuilding timeline requirements because many fish stocks were not recovering and were at risk of continued overfishing. Without this statutory standard, rebuilding timelines could vary dramatically, perpetuating depleted stock conditions and harming our businesses’ bottom lines.
    • Overfishing has been illegal since the MSA was first signed into law in 1976, but the 2007 requirement for annual catch limits (ACLs) truly put an end to the practice. Section 204 waives the requirement for ACLs for a large number of species, including virtually all bycatch species and many fish that are caught in international waters, significantly raising the risk of overfishing.
    • Repealing MSA Section 407 entirely (Section 306 in H.R. 200) would remove backstops against recreational quota overages and allocations for Gulf of Mexico red snapper which, combined with H.R. 200’s sweeping ACL exemptions, increases the risk of overfishing and makes it difficult for management bodies to allocate quota to prevent quota overages.
  • H. R. 200 hinders Councils’ ability to manage our fishery resources
    • Councils already have the flexibility to conduct allocation reviews as necessary, so requiring that the South Atlantic and Gulf Councils conduct a review of commercial and recreational allocations every 5 years (Section 202) is duplicative, costly, and would effectively prevent these Councils from having the time and money to manage the resource (i.e. stock assessments, habitat management, among other responsibilities).
    • Section 304 establishes a suite of procedures that would make the use of Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) nearly impossible, removing a pathway for Councils to work with industry to develop and test innovative gear, fishing, and management technologies aimed at improving resource management. Additionally, this Section bans the use of EFPs to test for Limited Access Privilege Programs (LAPPs).
  • H. R. 200 would impose unnecessary Congressional interference
    • Fishermen are deeply involved in the development of catch share programs, which often take years of deliberation with extensive public input. Under current law, Councils can require referenda on these programs at their discretion. Mandating additional referenda and specifying who should be allowed to vote in them is unnecessarily intrusive to the Council process and creates undue hurdles to catch share development (Section 205). While we recognize that a catch share program may not be appropriation for every fishery, we feel strongly that this management tool should remain a viable option.

We are disappointed to see this bill move along near partisan lines. The reauthorization of the MSA has traditionally been a bipartisan effort that advances the sustainability of our nation’s fisheries. Instead, what we see today is a partisan effort to advance the interests of the recreational fishing industry at the expense and to the detriment of the commercial fishing industry.

As thousands of commercial fishermen around the country stand in opposition to this bill, we urge House Leadership to reconsider bringing this bill to the House floor for a vote. We are serve as a direct connection to the ocean for many inland citizens and we take our responsibility as stewards of the ocean very seriously. We stand ready to work with Mr. Young and others to develop a bill that works for all sectors and progresses fisheries management across the board.

We appreciate your consideration of our request. Please reach out to our Executive Director, Leigh Habegger, should you have any further questions.




Christopher Brown, President


Member Organizations

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

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


1 2 3 10