A national U.S. commercial fishermen’s organization has formed, ahead of next week’s Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW).

Fourteen fishing groups, including the Gulf Fishermen’s Association and the American Shark Fisheries Association, have formed Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA) to represent the interests of seafood fishermen. “Through Harvesters, America’s commercial fishermen will be at the table when important decisions are made,” said Chris Brown, president of SHA. “That is key, because in Washington, D.C., if you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.”

First up for the group is lobbying on Capitol Hill, particularly ensuring that commercial fishermen are fairly represented in the Magnuson Stevenson Act reauthorization. In the Senate draft of the bill reauthorizing MSA from Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), the bill proposes re-allocating fish stocks every five years.“

That would create a lot of economic uncertainty for fishermen,” Brett Veerhusen (pictured), executive director of SHA, told SeafoodSource. “There were a lot of new provisions put into place in the draft Senate bill. We feel the draft needs to limit the scope of the act…so we can continue harvesting going forward.”

In addition, SHA will push for additional funding for stock assessments. “We need to hold scientists and others accountable, and we are in support of NOAA and NMFS being allocated more funding,” Veerhusen said.

At the same time, all fishermen should be held to strict annual catch limits, according to Veerhusen. “We need to make sure, as we always have, that we are doing the best we can to hold commercial fishermen responsible and that catch systems are really followed across the country. In addition, other user groups should be held to the same standards that commercial fishermen are. We don’t want to erode the progress commercial fishermen have made in rebuilding stocks,” Veerhusen said.

Meanwhile, SHA officials will participate in a CHOW panel, “The Future of American Fisheries,” on Thursday, 12 June. NOAA assistant administrator Eileen Sobeck, National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver, and others are also participating.

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