Don’t undermine America’s sustainable seafood boom

Don’t undermine America’s sustainable seafood boom
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In the Gulf of Mexico, where I’ve worked in the commercial fishery for more than 30 years, the last decade brought predictability, stability and profitability for fishermen who had struggled for decades with ineffective federal management of our fisheries. Now, this headway is threatened by proposals in Congress that could undercut healthy and productive Gulf fisheries. 

Between 2010 and 2015, the total harvest of seafood in Alabama, my home state, nearly doubled. We added thousands of commercial fishing and seafood industry jobs. Restaurants and supermarkets can now offer fresh Gulf seafood year-round.

All told, the Gulf commercial fishing and the seafood industry contributed a half billion dollars to Alabama’s economy — up significantly from just five years earlier, showing our resilience from both overfishing and oil spills.

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It’s been good for fish, too. We’re fishing within sustainable limits, keeping better track of our catch, and giving stocks a chance to replenish and strengthen.

 

This incredible resurgence was possible thanks to our ability to try new management approaches under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

The old system of restrictions and ever-shortening fishing seasons wasn’t helping overfished species recover, so we turned to an innovative approach called catch shares. It allows fishermen to fish whenever they want, so long as they stay under a scientifically determined cap and agree to better reporting and monitoring.

Troubled species rebounded, annual harvests are up, more domestically-caught fresh seafood is available to the public, fishermen are making more money, and fishing is safer because we can fish on our schedule — not the government’s.

But two bills being considered in Congress, H.R. 200 and S. 1520, would put this incredible progress at risk. Both bills single out catch shares. Despite having been studied extensively and proven to be an effective management tool, catch shares would be banned until a major — and arguably unnecessary — study is performed.

For the East Coast, H.R. 200 establishes new bureaucratic requirements to
establish new catch shares. In the Gulf, it lets people with very little connection to the fishery stop the common-sense, effective progress in fisheries management that has helped stocks recover and stabilized fishing businesses.

The bills would also require time-consuming, contentious reviews of the allocations between the commercial and recreational fisheries in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico — almost three dozen species could be affected, tying up valuable resources and distracting regulators and fishermen from solving other important problems.

Finally, both bills muddy the water surrounding one of the most important tools that have led to the recovery of so many species — science-based annual catch limits. The concept is simple: You can’t take more fish each year out of the sea than that species needs to replenish its population. Both H.R. 200 and S. 1520 make unclear, and potentially overbroad, exemptions to catch limits that put both fish and fishermen at risk.

In sum, the proposed legislation would hamstring fishermen and regulators with unnecessary restrictions and waste resources. We hope the members of Congress in D.C. will leave in place the successful tools that have helped local stakeholders turn around some of our most troubled fisheries and led to incredible economic growth all along our coasts.

David Walker is a commercial fisherman from Andalusia, Alabama and is a co-chair of Share The Gulf.