Major players in the US Seafood industry have come out staunchly against legislation aiming to update the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which governs fishing in all US federal waters.
California Democratic lawmaker Jared Huffman introduced the legislation last year with the goal of making climate change, diversity and technology a more central focus of US fisheries law.
Language concerning bycatch in his proposal could lead to devastating consequences if passed, industry groups that include the At-Sea Processors Association, GroundFish Forum, Coastal Villages Region Fund and Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association said in a letter sent to US lawmakers earlier this month.
The groups argue the legislation is "a mandate to absolutely minimize bycatch in all circumstances" and that it "could very well lead to managers or the courts shutting down fisheries where bycatch cannot be eliminated."
One of the issues is the legislation could remove language that currently requires US fisheries to manage bycatch "to the extent practicable."
The proposed legislation specifically removes that language and instead directs US fisheries that "to the extent bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of such bycatch."
The new language could leave the US seafood industry open to more environmental litigation, particularly if a judge decides minimizing bycatch means reducing it down to zero, several seafood lobbyists following the legislation told IntraFish.
They contend the "extent practicable" language as it relates to bycatch is already sufficiently regulating US fisheries. They point, as an example, to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's (NPFMC) decision last year to to tie halibut bycatch limits to Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) abundances, lowering the current bycatch cap between 20 to 35 percent.
On Thursday, the US House Natural Resources Committee approved the legislation, which could now go before the full US House of Representatives for a vote if it is put on the schedule before Jan. 3.
New Democratic Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola, a co-sponsor on the bill, was one of the lawmakers who voted to move it forward Thursday out of the House Natural Resources Committee.
In August, Peltola made history when she became first Native Alaskan elected to the US House of Representatives, taking over the seat from the late Don Young.
“It’s been 16 years since the last full reauthorization," said Peltola. "We’ve learned a lot in that time. We’ve seen what needs fixing, what can be made better, and how, regardless of our political battles, the climate and the oceans are changing. Nothing is more important to me as a member of Congress than to protect the fisheries and sea life that are crucial to Alaskan survival."
Peltola has publicly stated on her website she is for bycatch limits and that she does not believe "industrial trawling is sustainable, especially during such low ocean productivity."
Fisheries management when it comes to climate change is a central focus of the US Democratic Party and the Biden Administration.