US fishing industry issues rebuke of trawling bill

A fishing trawler returns to port
A fishing trawler returns to port | Photo courtesy of CL Shebley/Shutterstock
6 Min

More than 50 U.S. seafood organizations and companies have signed a letter calling on U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska) to immediately withdraw the Bottom Trawl Clarity Act legislation she introduced in May that could block off large sections of the ocean from trawling gear.

"This bill threatens seafood sector jobs in Alaska and across the United States,” At-Sea Processors Association Executive Director Stephanie Madsen said. “More than 1.5 million Americans have jobs that depend on commercial seafood, and they deserve better than the politicization of fisheries science and management."

Peltola’s bill would require regulators to designate bottom-trawl zones, limiting bottom-trawling gear to those areas.  The legislation would also require fishery management councils to define what counts as “substantial” or “limited” interaction with the seafloor, with Peltola’s office noting that “the North Pacific Fishery Management Council assumed bottom contact of up to 60 percent seafloor contact for small pelagic trawl vessels and up to 100 percent for factory catcher/processors.”

Peltola’s legislation has drawn substantial opposition from across the U.S. seafood sector, including scallop harvesters, Gulf of Mexico shrimpers, and communities in Alaska that depend on the trawling industry.

“Our major source of revenue is from raw fish taxes on seafood products, the majority of which comes from Alaska trawl fisheries,” Aleutians East Borough Mayor Alvin D. Osterback said. “These revenues fund our schools, community services, and our infrastructure. In fact, if our trawl fisheries were to be substantially harmed by the requirements of this legislation, we would not be able to meet our bond obligations and fund our education system, and if we could not do those things, then it all comes to an end for us out here.”

In total, 53 seafood groups, associations, and companies have signed a public letter calling on the lawmaker to withdraw the bill.

“Rep. Mary Peltola and her environmental activist supporters in Alaska don't like trawl gear. Got it. Message received,” National Fisheries Institute Chief Strategy Officer Gavin Gibbons said. “But why that has to cost jobs in Massachusetts, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Gulf doesn't make much sense. Here you have a seafood community saying, in unison, 'No thank you' to environmental rhetoric that doesn't match the realities of science or the daily lives of people who work hard to feed America.”

The coalition claims the legislation runs counter to the effective conservation efforts already provided via the Magnuson-Stevens Act and undermines the ability of regional fishery management councils to make decisions based on the best available science.

"The bill is a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation that flies in the face of decades of science and actual outcomes in hundreds of federally managed fisheries,” Gibbons said. “It's a solution in search of a problem. Walling off areas and imposing static closures based on ideological hostility to certain harvesting methods is not fisheries management. It will hurt our ability to manage fisheries based on the best available science and, in the process, will threaten a significant number of jobs in seafood harvesting and processing.”

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