News

Seafood Harvesters of America Applauds Provisions in HEALS Act that Help Fishermen

July 28, 2020 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy,Uncategorized

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts: Blake Androff, (202) 234-1224

Leigh Habegger, (703) 794-5114

 

Seafood Harvesters of America Applauds Provisions in HEALS Act that Help Fishermen

Senate package includes language to provide assistance to commercial fishing businesses

 

WASHINGTON, DC, July 28, 2020—Seafood Harvesters of America Executive Director Leigh Habegger today released the following statement after the Senate unveiled their fourth COVID-19 relief package, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, which includes important provisions that will help the commercial fishing industry weather the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Senator Sullivan worked hard to draft and secure language in this package to allow fishermen to amend their Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan amounts to include crewmember pay to be considered eligible payroll costs. We also thank Chairman Rubio for including this language in the package and his continued work to improve the PPP. Fishermen and fishing businesses hope to be able to fully realize the benefits of this rule change and are grateful for the Senators’ continued work on this issue. We urge House and Senate members to keep this language included in the final package that is negotiated over the coming weeks.

“Additionally, we are pleased with the additional fisheries assistance monies allocated to the program established in the CARES Act thanks to the efforts of Senators Cantwell, Collins, Markey, Murkowski, and Sullivan. This money directly benefits the fishermen and fishing businesses who have experienced economic losses due to the pandemic, offering them a lifeline during declines in sales and price. It is critical to ensure that this additional funding be made available quickly to all eligible fishermen.

“We are grateful for the continued efforts of Members to prioritize the recovery of our nation’s commercial fishing businesses. As this pandemic continues and restaurants operate at a limited capacity or close down again, the ripple effects are felt at every point in the supply chain down to the fishermen on the water harvesting seafood. It’s important that Congress continue supporting these businesses so that we are able to continue providing healthy, sustainable seafood for American consumers.”

 

You can view a PDF of this statement here.

Harvesters follow up on Observer Waiver Issue

July 13, 2020 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

Today, Harvesters sent a letter to NOAA and NMFS leadership regarding their serious concerns about the process through which NMFS has issued, or not, observer waivers across the regions. We outline these concerns in the letter below.

You can view a PDF of the letter here.

 

July 13, 2020

 

Dr. Neil Jacobs                                                           Mr. Samuel Rauch

Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for                  Deputy Assistant Administrator for

Oceans and Atmosphere                                            Regulatory Programs

Department of Commerce                                          National Marine Fisheries Service

1401 Constitution Ave NW                                         1315 East-West Highway

Washington, DC 20230                                              Silver Spring, MD 20610

 

Mr. Chris Oliver                                                          Mr. Paul Doremus

Assistant Administrator for Fisheries                         Deputy Asst Administrator for Operations

National Marine Fisheries Service                             National Marine Fisheries Service

1315 East-West Highway                                          1315 East-West Highway

Silver Spring, MD 20610                                            Silver Spring, MD 20610

 

 

Dr. Jacobs, Mr. Oliver, Mr. Rauch, and Mr. Doremus,

We write today on behalf of our 18 member groups and thousands of fishermen from Alaska to Maine. We are proud stewards and harvesters of America’s seafood, our nation’s strategic protein reserve and a critical component of our country’s food security, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent decisions by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS, or the Agency) regarding observer requirements continue to threaten the health, safety, and lives of our nation’s fishermen, fishing communities, and observers. We strongly urge you to add a third criteria to the emergency action under which NMFS may waive observer coverage requirements to take into consideration the health and safety of captains, crew, coastal communities, and observers. Additionally, we urge NMFS to fix its inconsistent and unequal application of observer waivers by extending waivers to all regions where fishermen are currently forced to take human observers.

We remain alarmed by the Agency’s illogical approach to observer waivers—issuing waivers in some regions while enforcing observer mandates in others. We are not alone; Councils around the country have raised their concerns with the Agency (Pacific Council, Mid-Atlantic Council, New England Council), commercial fishing organizations have voiced their fears about their members’ lives (here, here, and here), Members of Congress have weighed in trying to protect their constituents (Reps Moulton and Keating, Rep. DeFazio), and the issue continues to be raised in public meetings including the Council Coordination Committee (CCC) meeting in May 2020 and the recent Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MAFAC) meeting at the end of June 2020. Unfortunately, these concerns, fears, and letters have been ignored or met with empty words from Agency staff. The Agency has failed to issue a thoughtful, reasonable response that justifies the glaring inequities in its issuance of observer waivers in only some regions, an action that very clearly risks lives, during this global pandemic.

Our industry has taken extreme measures and made significant investments to curb the spread of COVID-19 among our crew and vessels including captain and crew education, enforcing strict quarantines, setting up testing sites for our fishermen, and implementing rigorous catch offloading procedures to minimize contact between vessel crew and processing crew. Additionally, processing companies have spent millions of dollars altering their operations to allow quick identification of any person infected with the virus and prevent further spread. The guidance documents developed for our industry were not produced by NMFS. The logistics for setting up testing sites for our captains and crew were not handled by NMFS. The monetary and resource costs associated with enforcing strict quarantines and vessel procedures were not borne by NMFS. We did these things to ensure we could continue to provide seafood for American consumers and fish in the safest way possible. Our collective efforts to maintain a healthy and COVID-free workplace on and around our vessels are undermined by the Agency’s insistence that we must take observers—observers who have not been tested, who may or may not have taken seriously their 14-day quarantine, who may have come from a different port with a higher incidence of COVID cases, and who are not accountable to the vessel captain who is ultimately responsible for the safety of the vessel and its crew.

To add insult to injury, NMFS has canceled nearly 60 scientific surveys around the country (the latest three in New England) because the logistics and risk prove too much for NMFS staff, researchers, and communities while we are being forced to risk our lives taking observers in the name of science and data collection. The Agency is sending a particularly egregious message that fishermen are expendable while NMFS staff must be protected from contracting COVID-19. That is unacceptable. NMFS is charged with “to the extent practicable, promot[ing] the safety of human life at sea.”[1] Continuing to require human observers aboard our vessels is an abdication of this responsibility.

We understand the need for science and data—they are the underpinnings of all of our fisheries management. Our businesses, as well as sound fisheries management, depend on science and data. However, we cannot safely gather this data through the deployment of human observers at this time. 

We have a long, demonstrated history of working in partnership with NMFS on accountability, science, and research, and a history of being collaborative and cooperative partners in management of our fisheries. Unfortunately, this partnership now feels one-sided at best. We want to continue our partnership with the Agency and collect as much data as we can during these unprecedented times, and we call on the Agency to work with us to jointly find a way that does not put our fishermen at risk.

It is time to think outside the box, to get creative, and we stand ready to help. We have boats with cameras and boats who want cameras and VMS—let’s use this to our collective advantage. We have fishermen ready to collect biological samples from their tows—let’s find a way to collect this data. We all agree that we are facing the enormous challenge of collecting scientific data; we agree that data collection may not happen the way we envisioned this year; we agree that the more data we collect, the better off we will all be. Let’s work together to find a path forward that does not involve risking lives for the sake of filling a data cell.

We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to a phone call to discuss possible avenues for moving forward in a productive manner. If we treat this as a unique opportunity to work together to develop data collection methods that don’t involve human observers, perhaps one of these methods will result in additional data streams for NMFS, or cuts costs for the industry and/or for NMFS, or better yet, save a life. We stand as willing and ready partners to achieve our mutual goals of data collection and scientific research, and protecting human lives.

Respectfully,

Robert E. Dooley

President

 

Leigh Habegger

Executive Director

 

 

[1] 16 U.S.C. § 1851 (2007).

 

Paycheck Protection Program Updates

July 6, 2020 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy,Uncategorized

We’ve seen a flurry of updates to the Paycheck Protection Program in the last week, so we’ve put together a short one-pager with the important changes highlighted. Be sure to check the SBA website here for more detailed information. You can also find more information about the crew member pay rule change in the Federal Register here. Please share this information far and wide!

You can download a PDF of this one pager here.

Spring 2020 Newsletter

June 24, 2020 - Published in Newsletter,Uncategorized

As we have all adjusted to the new realities of a world impacted by COVID-19, Harvesters continue to work on behalf of the commercial fishing industry in Washington, D.C. and around the country. Click on the image below to read our Spring 2020 newsletter and find out more.

Hope you are staying safe and healthy these days.

SHA sends Package 4 requests to the Hill Leadership

May 8, 2020 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy,Uncategorized

Today, Harvesters sent their requests for additional aid in the next stimulus package. As Members of Congress continue their negotiations for the next stimulus bill, we request they include aid for the commercial fishing industry.

You can find a PDF of the letter here.

 

May 8, 2020

 

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi                                                      The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Speaker of the House                                                                 Majority Leader

U.S. House of Representatives                                                   U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20515                                                                Washington, DC 20510

 

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy                                                The Honorable Chuck Schumer

Minority Leader                                                                          Minority Leader

U.S. House of Representatives                                                 U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20515                                                             Washington, DC 20510

 

RE: U.S. Commercial Fishing Needs

 

Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader McCarthy,

We write today on behalf of our 18 member organizations and thousands of fishermen from Alaska to Maine. We are proud stewards and harvesters of America’s seafood, our nation’s strategic protein reserve and a critical component of our country’s food security, especially during this time. As our nation reels in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we respectfully urge you to consider the following requests to ensure that the commercial fishing industry is able to continue providing a steady supply of fresh, sustainable seafood to our fellow Americans and support our coastal communities.

We are extremely grateful for the fisheries assistance included in the third COVID-19 stimulus package. As Congress turns its attention to crafting its next stimulus and recovery package, we look forward to the inclusion of additional relief for our industry. To mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our industry and businesses and ensure our continued ability to operate, we ask Congress to take the following actions:

  • Provide no less than an additional $1.5 billion to Sec. 12005, Assistance to Fishery Participants, of H.R. 748, the CARES Act, to provide relief from severe economic impacts felt by the commercial fishing industry as a result of COVID-19. This program is designed to provide assistance to commercial and charter fishery participants, as well as other fishery-related stakeholders, affected by COVID-19. While we are extremely grateful for the $300 million initially authorized and appropriated for this program, it is quickly becoming clear that as this money is divided among state and federal fisheries and a variety of user groups, it will not go far in addressing the losses we have felt in the commercial fishing industry. For perspective, commercial fishing landings at the port of New Bedford in 2018 were valued at $431 million, nearly one and a half times the amount of money included in the first appropriation for this assistance fund. We respectfully ask for additional funding for this critically important program that will provide direct relief to fishermen and our associated coastal communities.

 

  • Ensure the protection of critical working waterfront infrastructure by providing no less than $500 million in funding to states through the grant and loan programs established in H.R. 3596, Keep America’s Waterfronts Working As many commercial fishermen and waterfront businesses are making tough decisions about which bills to pay and whether to close their businesses for good, we respectfully urge Congress to provide the resources to fund the grant and loan program outlined in H.R. 3596. This bill, which enjoys bipartisan sponsorship and has passed the House, establishes a Working Waterfront Grant Program to provide matching, competitive grants to coastal states to help preserve and expand access to coastal waters for water-dependent businesses. It also creates a loan program for waterfront preservation, modeled after state drinking water loans. The commercial fishing industry has rightly been deemed an essential business because of the role we play in our nation’s food security, but in order for our businesses to continue and thrive, we must maintain our access to critical working waterfront infrastructure, including boat docks, fuel docks, ice houses, and fish houses, among others. We are concerned that if the commercial fishing industry and other water-dependent businesses shutter due to COVID-19, waterfront property previously used for industrial purposes will be developed and turned into residential or tourist areas, effectively shutting us out of ever accessing it again. By establishing these grant and loan programs, and funding them at a level no less than $500 million, Congress will ensure our ability to maintain our waterfront access that is critical for our business operations.

 

  • Provide no less than $2 billion for USDA to purchase domestically harvested and processed seafood products. Because COVID-19 forced many restaurants and other food service outlets to close in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, the commercial fishing industry and associated supply chain businesses have been severely impacted. In fact, in 2017, nearly 70% of the money spent on seafood in the U.S. was spent on seafood consumed at restaurants, cafeterias, and through catering services.[1] While many other sectors of food production have seen targeted support and dollars allocated specifically for USDA purchases, seafood has largely been left out of the picture. We simply ask for USDA funding specifically directed at purchasing seafood products, including those that have not historically been purchased by USDA, to help offset the severe impacts our industry has shouldered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

  • Provide oversight of NMFS Observer Program during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are increasingly concerned about the inconsistent way the NMFS Regional Offices have issued waivers for observer requirements. On March 27th, NMFS published a notice in the Federal Register requesting comments on a temporary rule providing Regional Offices and Science Centers the ability to grant waivers for observer requirements. Comments on this rule overwhelmingly support extended waivers for observer requirements. While some regions have provided temporary waivers pending a final decision, some Regional Offices have allowed those waivers to expire, often without justification, forcing fishing vessels to again take human observers on their vessels as the virus continues to spread around the country. This haphazard patchwork of observer requirements and waivers appears to be inconsistent with the current reality across the country and disregards the risk to human lives. It is especially appalling that fishing vessels are required to take human observers on fishing trips – potentially exposing captains and crew to COVID – when NMFS has repeatedly delayed and cancelled its own scientific research and surveys due to exposure risk for their staff and scientists.

 

We understand there are many competing requests flooding your mailboxes during this time; however, we ask you and your colleagues in Congress to support us in ensuring our businesses can survive the COVID-19 pandemic and protecting the health of our captains, crew, and shoreside communities. The country’s access to seafood depends on it.

 

Respectfully,

Robert Dooley                                                  Leigh Habegger

President                                                          Executive Director

 

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers • Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association • Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance • Cordova District Fishermen United • Fishermen’s Marketing Association • Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association • Fort Bragg Groundfish Association • Georges Bank Cod Fixed Gear Sector • Gulf Fishermen’s Association • Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance • Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association • Midwater Trawlers Cooperative • New Hampshire Community Seafood • North Pacific Fisheries Association • Purse Seine Vessel Owners’ Association • Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association • South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association • United Catcher Boats

[1] 2017 NOAA Fisheries of the United States Report https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/fisheries-united-states-2017-report

Harvesters send letter asking Treasury to address F/V crew member issues in PPP loans

May 7, 2020 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy,Uncategorized

Today, Harvesters sent the letter below to Senate and House Small Business Committees seeking their assistance to clarify an issue facing the fishing industry as we apply for PPP loans due to specific language in the IRS Code.

You can find a PDF of the letter here.

 

May 7, 2020

 

The Honorable Marco Rubio                                                      The Honorable Ben Cardin

Chairman                                                                                  Ranking Member

Small Business Committee                                                        Small Business Committee

U.S. Senate                                                                               U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20510                                                             Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Chairman Rubio and Ranking Member Cardin:

We write today on behalf of our 18 member organizations and thousands of fishermen from Alaska to Maine. We are proud stewards and harvesters of America’s seafood, our nation’s strategic protein reserve and a critical component of our country’s food security, especially during this time. As our fishing businesses reel in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we respectfully ask you to address the need to allow fishing businesses to include payments to fishing vessel crewmembers reported as fishing boat proceeds on Form 1099-MISC as eligible payroll costs under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

We are grateful for the hard work and leadership you have both shown in developing programs to keep the nation’s small business community afloat and able to weather this pandemic, fishing businesses included. We believe it was an oversight that fishing vessel crewmember wages cannot be considered in the fishing business’s PPP loan application as submitted by the vessel owner or captain, and hope it can be easily fixed as Treasury completes their final rule for the PPP.

Our businesses have been deemed essential to the food security of the nation and we are proud to go to sea especially in this time of need. However, we have seen drastic price reductions for much of our fresh product and we are landing a fraction of what we normally land this time of year because there is simply no market in which to sell fresh fish. We believe the purpose and intent of the Paycheck Protection Program is to help protect small businesses, including commercial fishing businesses. But as it stands now, that does not hold true and fishing businesses and crewmembers are unable to effectively access full PPP benefits.

Allowing a fishing business to include crewmember 1099 income on its PPP loan application will reduce administrative burden and allow crewmembers and fishing businesses to realize the full benefits of this program. One fishing vessels operating as a small business could have anywhere from two to over 20 crewmembers for the relevant PPP loan time period. Many of those crewmembers may not have existing business bank accounts at lending institutions, and many banks are currently overwhelmed and limiting PPP loans to only existing business customers. Enabling a fishing business to include crewmembers will allow PPP benefits to flow to the appropriate people and reduce the number of applications lenders will have to process.

The IRS Fishing Audit Technique Guide (Revised 2011) notes that under standard common law rules, individuals who work on fishing vessels as crewmembers are considered employees except under IRC § 3121(b)(20) where these crewmembers are considered self-employed for the purposes of health insurance, pension plans, and employment taxes. Indeed, this is evident as crewmembers purchase their own health insurance, set up their own retirement accounts, and must report any fishing boat proceeds on their 1099-MISC form in box 5.

In order for our businesses to find relief and access immediately available capital to help us continue to pay our full crew their wages, we ask for your help to work with the Treasury Department to allow fishing businesses to report fishing boat proceeds (crewmember wages) on Form 1099-MISC as eligible payroll costs under the Payroll Protection Program. We ask that you pursue the necessary rulemaking changes or if necessary, legislative changes to Section 1102 of the CARES Act, to address this problem for our Nation’s commercial fishing businesses.

We appreciate your leadership and work to address this issue and we stand ready to help your efforts in any way.

 

Respectfully,

Robert Dooley                                                  Leigh Habegger

President                                                          Executive Director

 

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers • Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association • Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance • Cordova District Fishermen United • Fishermen’s Marketing Association • Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association • Fort Bragg Groundfish Association • Georges Bank Cod Fixed Gear Sector • Gulf Fishermen’s Association • Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance • Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association • Midwater Trawlers Cooperative • New Hampshire Community Seafood • North Pacific Fisheries Association • Purse Seine Vessel Owners’ Association • Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association • South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association • United Catcher Boats

Harvesters letter to NOAA regarding $300 million in fisheries assistance Funds

April 23, 2020 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy,Uncategorized

On Thursday, April 23, Harvesters sent a letter to Secretary Ross, Paul Doremus, and Chris Oliver requesting that the process to disburse the $300 million in fisheries assistance funds be public and transparent so that the commercial fishing industry can engage appropriately and understand how to apply for funds. Additionally, we asked that once this process is established, funds should be disbursed quickly. Lastly, we noted that additional funds will likely be necessary to support the commercial fishing industry.

You can read the full letter below and a PDF version can be found here.

 

April 23, 2020

 

The Honorable Wilbur Ross

Secretary

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20230

 

Dear Secretary Ross,

We write today on behalf of our 18 member groups and thousands of fishermen from Alaska to Maine. We are proud stewards and harvesters of America’s seafood, a critical component of our country’s food security, especially during this time. As our nation reels in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to work hard providing fresh and frozen fish to consumers. However, drastic supply chain disruptions resulting from restaurant closures and limited or no grocery markets for fresh fish has inflicted staggering economic losses for the commercial fishing industry. We call upon the Department of Commerce and NOAA to clearly articulate their distribution process for the $300 million in fisheries assistance funds to ensure it is public and transparent. We also request the funds be expeditiously disbursed to the eligible recipients once this process is developed.

We strongly urge NOAA and the Department of Commerce to make the disbursement process for the $300 million in fisheries assistance public and transparent. The industry has not, thus far, been made aware of any process NOAA is considering to allocate these funds despite repeated requests from industry stakeholders and Members of Congress. We are concerned that this lack of transparency will result in a process that does not adequately account for fishermen’s economic needs.

Once this process has been outlined, we urge Agency and Commerce officials to disburse these funds as quickly as possible. Many of the domestic and international markets commercial fishermen depend on for the sale of their catch have been drastically reduced or have disappeared altogether. Approximately 70% of the money spent on seafood in 2017 in the United States was spent on seafood consumed at restaurants, cafeterias, and through catering services.[1] As these businesses have shuttered, our fishing businesses have also suffered. The U.S. is a global leader in sustainable seafood, but without an immediate lifeline, we risk losing the fishermen, the fishing businesses, and the associated working waterfronts that have made our commercial fishing industry the gold standard. Furthermore, the commercial fishing industry is the economic backbone in many coastal communities and without a strong fishing industry, many of these coastal communities will face enormous financial challenges. It is imperative this money reach qualified recipients quickly.

As the economic impacts of this pandemic continue to mount, access to capital to keep the lights on and the boats running is critical. The $300 million appropriated in the CARES Act is only the start to helping the commercial fishing industry stay afloat during this pandemic and continue to supply fresh, sustainable seafood for the American people. Any future dollars appropriated will need to be quickly disbursed to the fishing industry, which is why the process you set forth in this initial round is so important.

We strongly urge the Department of Commerce and NOAA to provide transparency in the development of the process to allocate the $300 million in fisheries assistance so that the commercial fishing industry can understand how to appropriately access those funds. Getting this process correct will allow for the subsequent disbursement of funds to happen efficiently now and with any additional funding appropriated in the future.

Thank you for your consideration.

 

Respectfully,

Leigh Habegger                                                Robert Dooley

Executive Director                                            President

 

 

Cc:      Paul Doremus, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Operations

Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries

 

[1] 2017 NOAA Fisheries of the United States Report https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/document/fisheries-united-states-2017-report

Harvesters pen letter to NMFS leadership addressing the Observer Program requirements amid COVID-19 pandemic

April 4, 2020 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

On Friday, April 3, 2020, Harvesters sent the following letter to NMFS leadership including Chris Oliver and Sam Rauch, as well as each Regional Administrator, outlining our serious concerns for the health and human safety of our captains, crew, and shoreside communities as regional offices have been slow to issue exemption waivers for Observer Program requirements.

 

April 3, 2020

 

Mr. Chris Oliver                                                           Mr. Samuel Rauch

Assistant Administrator for Fisheries                         Deputy Asst Administrator for Regulatory Programs

National Marine Fisheries Service                             National Marine Fisheries Service

1315 East-West Highway                                           1315 East-West Highway

Silver Spring, MD 20610                                            Silver Spring, MD 20610

 

Mr. Oliver and Mr. Rauch,

We write today on behalf of our 18 member groups and thousands of fishermen from Alaska to Maine. We are proud stewards and harvesters of America’s seafood, our nation’s strategic protein reserve and a critical component of our country’s food security, especially during this time. As our nation reels in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to go to sea to harvest and land seafood for American consumers. In light of the enormous health and safety risks associated with taking an observer onboard our fishing trips, we respectfully and strongly urge each Regional Administrator to waive observer requirements until June 30, 2020 or the end of fishing seasons underway at that time, whichever is later, for their regions consistent with the agency’s emergency rule and the authority granted to them under 50 CFR 648.11(c).

The emergency action taken by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on March 24, 2020 grants each Regional Administrator the authority to waive observer requirements on a “case-by-case” basis. Unfortunately, this process is too time consuming and wastes Agency resources that should be devoted to more pressing tasks. Furthermore, the “case-by-case” work in the West Coast office has developed into a vessel-by-vessel decision, a herculean task for regional staff, no doubt.

We respectfully and strongly urge NMFS Headquarters to work with each Regional Administrator (RA) to craft a blanket waiver similar to the one issued by Michael Pentony, RA for the Greater Atlantic Fisheries Region Office (GARFO). The blanket waiver issued for the Greater Atlantic Region removes the risk to our captains, skippers, crew, and shoreside communities in that region from being exposed to COVID-19 through an observer whose recent activities, actions, and health status are unknown. We believe it is irresponsible to continue requiring our fishing fleets to carry observers given the risks to health and human safety.

We urge you to use this opportunity to take full advantage of the many electronic monitoring (EM) pilot programs around the country to gather catch data during this time when human observers should not be used, and to expand the use of EM systems where possible. Investment in the continued development of EM systems around the country and a concerted effort to incorporate EM data into the stream of catch data will likely have a profound effect on NMFS’s ability to continue to collect the important catch data necessary to aid fisheries management during this period. With respect to the current ongoing EM EFP projects, we ask you to consider allowing additional vessels to become participants in these EM EFP projects if camera EM systems are available and the additional vessels meet the requirements of the EFP. We are strong supporters of EM systems and believe we have a great opportunity to work to advance these systems given the present challenges with human observers.

While we stand firmly behind our belief in accountability and fully support the Agency’s work to gather important fishery data, this is not an issue of data or science. Many of our boats are designed such that maintaining six feet of distance while working is simply not possible. Additionally, crew sleeping quarters are, on nearly every boat, very small and observers may be sleeping less than 3 feet from other crew members. Many of our vessels are home ported in and/or offload in small, remote communities and observers pose additional risks to those communities who lack the medical resources and expertise that larger cities enjoy. Our industry is taking drastic strides to protect our captains and crew from exposure to COVID-19 including 14-day quarantines and remaining on the vessel through the fishing season (i.e. not disembarking the vessel when at the docks or offloading). Allowing observers on our boats will undermine our efforts to protect the health and safety of our captains, crew, and shoreside communities.

We ask NMFS and the Regional Administrators to support us in protecting our fishermen by waiving observer requirements until June 30, 2020 or the end of fishing seasons underway at that time, whichever is later, so we can continue to provide fresh, sustainable seafood in this time of need.

 

Respectfully,

Leigh Habegger                                              Robert Dooley

Executive Director                                          President

 

Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers • Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association • Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance • Cordova District Fishermen United • Fishermen’s Marketing Association • Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association • Fort Bragg Groundfish Association • Georges Bank Cod Fixed Gear Sector • Gulf Fishermen’s Association • Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance • Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association • Midwater Trawlers Cooperative • New Hampshire Community Seafood • North Pacific Fisheries Association • Purse Seine Vessel Owners’ Association • Rhode Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association • South Atlantic Fishermen’s Association • United Catch Boats

 

CC:      James Balsiger, PhD, Regional Administrator, Alaska Regional Office

Michael Pentony, Regional Administrator, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office

Michael Tosatto, Regional Administrator, Pacific Islands Regional Office

Roy Crabtree, PhD, Southeast Regional Office

Barry Thom, West Coast Regional Office

 

You can view a PDF of this letter here.

Seafood Harvesters applauds passage of the third Senate stimulus package

March 26, 2020 - Published in News Releases and Advocacy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Leigh Habegger, leigh@seafoodharvesters.org, (703) 794-5114

 

Seafood Harvesters applauds passage of the third Senate stimulus package

Stimulus package includes funds to help fishing industry thanks to Senators’ efforts

 

WASHINGTON, DC, March 25, 2020 – Early this morning, the Senate passed the CARES Act, which includes a number of important provisions to provide relief to U.S. citizens and small businesses. We applaud the Senate for its work and urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation.

We are grateful for the efforts of Senators Cantwell, Collins, Markey, Murkowski, and Sullivan to champion the needs of the fishing industry in this stimulus package. Their strong work on behalf of our industry will prove immensely helpful in the coming weeks and months as we work to recover from COVID-19 impacts.

Included in this package is language that provides $300 million in fisheries assistance to support the fishing industry. This funding is critical to helping keep commercial fishermen afloat as their businesses are severely impacted by COVID-19.

Additionally, there is language providing more than $350 billion in loans for small businesses, under which commercial fishermen qualify, and we are glad to see funds provided to alleviate COVID-19 related impacts for our businesses, many of which are family run operations.

“This bill provides urgently needed support for the fishing industry and we are grateful for the work by these Senators to champion our industry’s needs,” said Leigh Habegger, Executive Director for Seafood Harvesters of America. “The impacts from COVID-19 are severe and widespread across the seafood industry and we look forward to these disaster funds being quickly disbursed to help offset the financial hits we have experienced and will continue to incur.”

Seafood Harvesters of America represents 18 fishing organizations from the Bering Sea to the Gulf of Mexico to Maine. Find more at www.seafoodharvesters.org

###

 

PDF can be found here.

Harvesters Statement on the Passing of Vice President William Ward

December 18, 2019 - Published in News Clippings

The Seafood Harvesters of America extend our deepest sympathies to the family of William Ward who suddenly passed away on Friday night. With a long history in the commercial fishing industry, Will selflessly served our organization as a board member representing the Gulf Fishermen’s Association and we are grateful for his devoted service.

As a lawyer, Will used his platform to conserve and protect the natural resources he loved and he worked to ensure fair and just treatment under the law for his clients. Outside of the courtroom, Will spent his time running his seafood business and advocating tirelessly for the commercial fishing industry in Florida and in Washington, DC.

As Vice President of the Harvesters’ Board of Directors, Will’s unique perspective and voice helped lead our organization on issues ranging from accountability to vessel safety to seafood promotion. He was a firm believer that every American should have access to the freshest, most sustainable seafood harvested in our nation’s waters and worked each day to protect that access. Will was, undoubtedly, a dedicated and passionate voice for our organization and for the industry across the country.

We are heartbroken to hear the news of Will’s passing and offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

 

Will holding up his bull red caught in Galveston, TX at our annual meeting in October.

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