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Setting Biden's seafood policy table

Setting Biden's seafood policy table
© Getty Images

Fishermen have been invited to be partners with the Biden administration on ocean policy and we are prepared to engage. Hard work, honest dialog and commitments to justice and equity will ensure that we remain at the table and not on the menu.

January’s executive order tackling climate change includes ambitious provisions that set agencies on a course to climate mitigation. Most importantly for America’s commercial fishing families, the order established two parallel processes to secure direct input from fishermen on, respectively the appropriate ways to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, an initiative known as 30x30, and ways to make our fisheries more resilient to climate change.

Fishing communities are precisely where policymakers should look for durable ocean-based climate solutions. Here are some starting points.

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Expand place-based fisheries protections

Today’s ocean is increasingly industrialized and our coasts are more densely occupied than ever. The historic pattern of ocean and coastal development exacerbated by climate change has resulted in reduced protections for fish habitat and serial declines of functional working waterfront. The administration has the ability to reverse both trends.

The U.S. should strengthen existing fisheries habitat protection processes by requiring federal agencies to avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts to Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). EFH consultations are regularly conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), yet NOAA’s recommendations are routinely ignored by other agencies. Executive action requiring permitting agencies to incorporate NOAA’s EFH conservation recommendations into their decisions would significantly benefit fish habitat, fisheries and biodiversity.

The U.S. can also promote the resilience of our working waterfront through infrastructure investments and policy action that secure fishing community access. National infrastructure investments should support climate resilient working waterfronts that meet the needs of community-based fishermen. National Standard 8, a key community protection provision of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, should be strengthened and its implementing guidelines updated.

Decarbonize U.S. seafood systems

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Domestic wild-caught fish has the lowest associated carbon emissions on average of any animal protein. Americans should be eating more wild domestic seafood to mitigate climate change and improve their health. With proper incentives and support, U.S. fishermen can secure new markets while increasing food security and reducing the carbon footprint of America’s food supply.

The Biden administration should take this opportunity to invest in local seafood systems, which can decrease emissions from this already low-emissions food source. Strengthening NOAA and USDA programs that support and promote sustainable wild-capture seafood consumption at home is a win-win. Simultaneously, the U.S. must strengthen policies and programs to eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing, which undermines international conservation efforts, harms domestic fisheries and increases seafood-associated emissions.

The administration can also partner with fishermen on direct emission reductions. Diesel engines remain the only widely available marine propulsion option for fishing vessels, but innovations in hybrid power and alternative fuels are advancing. New programs to accelerate development and acquisition of next-generation marine propulsion technology will set the course to low- or zero-emission fisheries. 

Give 30x30 a dose of ocean reality

The fishing industry is united in insisting that 30x30 policies recognize our world-leading fisheries management and avoid walling off areas of the ocean to all commercial fisheries. This call was echoed by two dozen of the country’s leading fisheries scientists. Fishermen objected primarily to mandates for no-take marine protected areas, including those that would set aside large parts of the ocean for recreational exploitation while disenfranchising fishing families.

Implementing 30x30 equitably should start at the inventory stage. According to the United Nations World Database of Protected Areas and by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s definition of marine protection, existing marine protected areas already cover over 37 percent of U.S. ocean waters. Over the past 40 years the U.S. has developed a visionary system for fisheries governance and conservation and through it implemented sweeping science and process-based conservation measures. Rather than circumventing existing processes, arguing over semantics and disqualifying our sustainable fisheries, the 30x30 process in the ocean should focus on investing resources in comprehensive climate-focused stock assessments, strengthening participatory fisheries management and integrating climate change into existing management processes. 

In his inaugural address, President BidenJoe BidenLawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' Fauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump MORE issued a clarion call for the new administration: “Let’s begin to listen to one another again, to hear one another, see one another, show respect to one another.” 


Fishermen’s appeals for equitable participation have been heard. We are optimistic the administration is setting a collaborative course for ocean climate action that will result in just and durable solutions and we are ready to get to work.

Linda Behnken is a commercial fisherman and executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, an association of small-scale fishermen based in Sitka, Alaska. Mike Conroy is an attorney and executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations based in San Francisco.