Seafood industry groups unite to oppose bill that would limit bottom trawls

(The Center Square) – A bill introduced last month in the U.S. House of Representatives that could place limits on trawling by fishermen and shrimpers is drawing the fire of seafood industry groups from Alaska to Florida.

House Resolution 8507, the Bottom Trawl Clarity Act, would require the nation’s eight regional Fisheries Management councils, some of which allow fishing trawls to scrape the bottom, to define the terms “substantial” versus “limited” contact of the bottom.

The measure would also require the designation of bottom trawl zones and limit the number of areas where bottom trawling is allowed. This form of trawling utilizes weighted nets equipped with rollers to harvest shrimp, flounder, whiting, red hake, dogfish and some species of crab.

The bill is authored by U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, who said in a summary of the legislation that “limiting the areas where bottom trawling is allowed will help enhance marine health, diversity, and resilience, strengthening the ocean ecosystem that Alaska fishermen depend on.”

In a letter sent to Peltola by 53 seafood industry groups and companies, they ask her to withdraw her bill, citing harm to the industry. The signees include the National Fisheries Institute, the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, the Southern Shrimp Alliance, shrimper organizations in Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas, the New England Fishermen’s Stewardship Association and the Northeast Seafood Coalition, among others.

“The introduction of H.R. 8507 shakes the confidence of seafood buyers and consumers in U.S. seafood, thereby casting a long shadow of uncertainty over the future opportunities of fishery-dependent communities and businesses at the worst possible time,” the letter says. “Its top-down mandates would permanently wall off vast sections of ocean territory from important sustainable fisheries, boxing in not only fishermen but also scientists and managers who would be prevented from adapting their management approaches to changing ocean conditions over time.”

Mike Merrifield is the vice president of the Southeastern Fisheries Association and one of the letter signers.

“The inflexible approach in Rep. Peltola’s anti-mobile gear legislation is especially troubling given it restricts the ability of commercial fisheries to respond to resource shifts due to changing ocean temperatures,” Merrifield said in a statement. “Shrimp are particularly sensitive to ocean temperatures which are driving the resource into different areas and deeper water.

“The legislation will prevent industry in the South Atlantic and every other region from being able to adjust fishing efforts to provide food for our nation.”

Also releasing a statement was Alvin D. Osterback, the mayor of the Aleutians East Borough. He said passage of the legislation would result in his community being substantially harmed by the legislation’s requirements since most of their tax revenue comes from trawl fisheries and could even result in the five-city borough not being able to meet bond obligations and fund its education system.