Commercial fishing associations demand voice in Biden’s conservation planning

Groups representing a variety of fishing sectors and environmental causes have issued responses to U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate plan, which includes a plan to commit 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters to conservation by 2030.

The Seafood Harvesters of America, an association that represents commercial fishing organizations from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico to New England, said it welcomed the Biden administration’s effort to tackle climate change

“We applaud President Biden for recognizing the critical need for meaningful stakeholder engagement in fulfilling his campaign promise to conserve 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030. Explicitly naming fishermen as a stakeholder group clearly acknowledges our role in ensuring healthy oceans systems and providing the lowest carbon footprint protein to the American people. We hope that this administration listens to the commercial fishing industry in discussions of marine protections because we are also committed to healthy oceans,” Seafood Harvesters of America Executive Director Leigh Habegger said. “Without genuine, meaningful participation from the commercial fishing industry, we will continue to face pendulum swings of opening and closing areas like we are seeing with the Northeast Seamounts and Canyons Monument.”

Seafood Harvesters of America President Christopher Brown called for Biden to base his decisions in “sound science.”

“Having experienced the collapse of our fisheries in past decades due to political refusals to listen to the guiding principles of science, I know all too well that politics is a poor choice as a proxy for science in any situation that is of national concern,” he said. “Conserving 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030 is a big deal and we must get it right if it is to be effective. If this initiative is guided by no more than simply what feels good or sounds catchy, we will not get it right. Much like the Magnuson-Stevens Act, so too must this initiative be rooted in science if it is to be a global gold standard. ‘30x30’ must be science-based, transparent, and stakeholder-driven, while having a watchful eye for fairness, equity, and societal betterment. Our oceans are changing rapidly and we must confront that head on. However, we must allow for science to guide us, not politics.”

Heather Mann, the executive director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, which represents commercial trawlers on the U.S. West Coast, said in a press release Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad represents an opportunity for industry to help shape the administration’s conservation objectives so they achieve their goals while doing minimal harm to the seafood industry.

“The [executive order] language sets forth a pretty short window in which to engage stakeholders. My hope is that identifying the commercial fishing industry in the EO reflects a strong commitment from the administration for meaningful dialogue and input, not just a check-the-box exercise,” Mann said. “President Biden has made a commitment to set aside partisanship and work on unifying the nation – when it comes to the fishing industry, it is critical that the administration fully understand all the sacrifices we have made and the conservation safeguards we helped put in place to protect our oceans. These safeguards and the resulting protections were accomplished through transparent, stakeholder- driven processes. Abandoning the spirit of compromise, which seeks win-win outcomes for conservation and the industry, to focus on broadly sweeping measures that will not help the climate and simultaneously hurt the fishing industry, is not unifying nor a success.”

West Coast Seafood Processors Association Executive Director Lori Steele called for work on achieving the executive order’s mandates to proceed process through the U.S. regional fishery management councils and state fishery management agencies, which she said “emphasize a transparent, stakeholder-driven process.”

“We appreciate that President Biden has committed to a science-based process with meaningful stakeholder engagement,” Steele said. “Thankfully, our council process already provides us this very solid foundation. We are looking forward to continuing to work with our council partners, and we stand ready to engage with the Biden administration to ensure the long-term health of our oceans.”

Steel warned some provisions contained in the executive order could be detrimental to the seafood industry.

“Improper planning of offshore wind siting areas, for example, could push fishermen out of prime fishing grounds,” she said. “Our ocean environments are extremely complex systems, and implementing the Administration’s objectives will require thoughtful and careful planning. Unintended social and economic consequences of well-intended conservation objectives could have devastating impacts on fishing communities for generations to come.”

Oregon Trawl Commission Director Yelena Nowak called for industry input and advice to be taken seriously by the Biden administration.  

“When fishery managers seek stakeholder input and, most importantly, apply it to their decisions, it can lead to broad industry buy-in with overwhelmingly effective results. One great example is the adaptation of the LED lights technology in the Oregon pink shrimp fishery. The entire fleet adapted the technology that helps reduce bycatch of the endangered eulachon long before it became a regulation,” Nowak said. “As stewards of the ocean, we are devoted to keeping it healthy and bountiful for this and future generations. As producers of one of the healthiest, most sustainable, and one of the lowest carbon footprint proteins on the planet, we are committed to combating the climate crisis and providing healthy nutrition to all Americans.”

Eric Brazer, the deputy director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, an industry group, said he hoped commercial fishermen from the Gulf region would have a seat at the table in helping create the policy that will emerge out of the executive order.

“Commercial fishermen are on the front lines of climate change. We build and operate successful seafood businesses that must respond and adapt to the dynamic Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystem. We battle the tides, the weather, warming waters, growing hypoxic zones, and intensified algal blooms. But we persevere because we are at the helm of fishing businesses that support our families, fuel our coastal communities, and feed a nation that’s demanding more sustainable seafood than ever before,” Brazer said. “We look forward to working closely with the Biden administration to conserve important natural resources through collaboration, and with input from commercial fishermen, on policies that impact our industry, our communities, and the nation’s seafood supply.”

Tyson Fick, the former communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and currently a Juneau, Alaska-based commercial fisherman, said the executive order shows the Biden administration is taking action on a key issue affecting the country’s fishermen. Fick pointed to a 2020 survey of more than 750 fishermen conducted by the Salmon Habitat Information Program and SalmonState, an advocacy organization seeking to protect salmon fisheries in Alaska, which climate change ranking third behind fish prices and the proposed Pebble Mine as the top concerns of fishermen in Alaska.

“As an Alaska fisherman I can tell you firsthand that climate change has put America's access to healthy, sustainable wild seafood at stake – and with it, thousands of fishing jobs, businesses, and communities dependent on access to wild seafood,” Fick said. “Fishermen are on board to work with the Biden administration to develop the tools and policies that will help fisheries and fishing-dependent communities to adapt and survive in this changing world. The cost of inaction is one that we cannot afford.”

Fick was one of a number of signatories to a letter sent 22 December to Biden’s transition team calling for the voices of commercial fishermen to be included in conversations on the president’s work on combating climate change.

“I feel like we are being heard. Fishermen have not always had the best experiences with environmental laws and regulations. Yet, with the 30x30 provision, we are guardedly optimistic that the Biden administration will adopt an equitable and transparent process with a high level of local involvement and direction,” Fick said. “If this means durable and meaningful protection for fish powerhouses like Bristol Bay and the Tongass, then fishermen are onboard. If it means locking up traditional fishing grounds from sustainable fishing, then that will be something we would hope to avoid. Time will tell, but unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to take action. The time for action is now and we urge the Biden administration to include Alaska’s fishermen in the next steps of this process and ensure that commercial fishermen are at the helm of ocean-based climate solutions.”

Photo courtesy of SalmonState


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