Cantwell: key fishery bill should tackle the threat of ocean acidification

During Commerce hearing, Cantwell says new cooperative research to protect salmon populations should be considered in Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization

Cantwell also secures support for her bill that gives fishermen flexibility to grow businesses by refinancing federal loans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) warned of ocean acidification’s impact on salmon fisheries and the jobs they support. To combat the problem, she called for new cooperative research between fishermen and scientists to be considered as part of a Magnuson-Stevens Act Reauthorization.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act – last reauthorized in 2007 – is the law that guides the management of our nation’s commercial fisheries in federal waters.

In a discussion with several Washington state witnesses, Cantwell highlighted why additional research is needed to understand ocean acidification’s potential to damage critical salmon food sources – including small crustaceans such as copepods. Witnesses raised concerns that copepods, key to healthy salmon populations, could find it harder to reproduce if their waters become more acidic.

“The reason I bring this up is because throughout this hearing we have had a dialogue about all the things we’re doing to try to protect salmon,” Cantwell said at today’s hearing. “And yet, I think we also have to realize there is this larger looming threat of acidification. While we’ve all been aware this is accelerating and having an impact on the oceans, I think this one has very big potential.”

At today’s Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing, Cantwell also received support for her bipartisan bill – the Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries in the Pacific Act — to support West Coast Groundfish fishermen. During her questioning, Cantwell asked veteran crab fisherman Ray Toste about ensuring fishing access for the next generation of fishermen. As the cost of starting a fishing business continues to increase, Cantwell and Toste discussed how Washington state is a pioneer in transferring crab permits to young fishermen.

Also at the hearing, Cantwell asked Dr. Trevor Branch, a University of Washington fisheries professor, about his work on ocean acidification impacts on seafood. Cantwell found that there is significant uncertainty and additional scientific data is needed to understand how fish stocks and fishery jobs may be impacted by ocean acidification.

“How can we leverage the acidification research?” asked Cantwell. “How can NOAA leverage what’s being done at the University of Washington’s Center on Acidification research. How can we work cooperatively? We meet fishermen all throughout our region that are ready to help participate in collecting data and information.”

Dr. Branch replied: “I think the key is going to be figuring out what species are going to be affected and what species aren’t. And how to cope with ocean acidification in the future. And hopefully mitigate against the causes of ocean acidification as well.”

Cantwell also asked Joe Dazey, executive director of the Washington Trollers Association, about why fishermen are calling for more research to help ensure salmon populations remain sustainable.

Cantwell asked: “Do we have the science that we need, Mr. Dazey?”

Mr. Dazey replied: “There has been a lot of research done on ocean acidification by Dr. Feeley and some of Dr. Branch’s associates at the University of Washington. One of the things that concerns the salmon fleet is that ocean acidification will affect copepods. And that’s a large part of the diet of juvenile salmon.”

A recent report from the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County found Washington state’s maritime industry is worth $30 billion. The sector supports 57,000 direct jobs and 90,000 indirect jobs, 60 percent of which are in the fishing industry.

Cantwell has been a leading voice in the Senate about the threat ocean acidification poses to fisheries and coastal economies. Last September, she urged Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA’s Acting Administrator, to prioritize ocean acidification monitoring and research crucial to Washington state’s $270 million shellfish industry.

Shellfish aquaculture is a $2.8 billion industry in the United States. In the West Coast region, Washington state is by far the largest producer of farmed shellfish. Shellfish growers support more than 3,200 jobs in the state’s coastal communities. Shellfish farming is the largest employer in Pacific County and is the second largest employer in Mason County.

In 2010, Cantwell secured funding to acquire and deploy ocean acidification sensors near major shellfish hatcheries in Washington state. Today, these sensors, some of which are attached to buoys from NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observation System program, allow shellfish growers to monitor ocean acidity in real time and close off their shellfish rearing tanks when ocean acidity is too high. Recent studies have shown a connection between ocean acidification and high mortality rates among young oysters and other shellfish like clams, geoducks and mussels.

At the hearing, Dr. Donald McIssac expressed support for Cantwell’s Revitalizing the Economy of Fisheries in the Pacific Act.

Dr. McIssac said: “Yes, the council has looked at it, and we have a letter on record in support of the buyback bill that is out there for consideration. And as Mr. Stelle indicated, the individual fisherman out there that are now coming to the dock and paying a portion of their landings for this buyback loan, another portion for observer coverage, and of course, all the normal state landing taxes – is quite a burden.”

Cantwell and U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-03) introduced the Act on July 11, 2013. The act is cosponsored by Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Begich (D-AK) in the U.S. Senate. The House version of the bill is cosponsored by Jared Huffman (D-CA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Don Young (R-AK), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Mike Thompson (D-CA).

Many fishing businesses in the West Coast groundfish fishery have struggled to pay high interest rates on federal loans and fees on their catch. This legislation ensures these fishermen receive the same interest rates on federal loans as other businesses, and extends the length of these loans from 30 to 45 years. In addition, the legislation reduces fees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collects from fishermen to pay down their loans.

The Secretary of Commerce declared the West Coast groundfish fishery a federal fisheries economic disaster in 2000, because of overcapitalization and overfishing. In 2003, Congress authorized buyback loans for the fishery to decrease fishing pressure and support a catch-share program in the fishery. These loans help eliminate overfishing by buying out the permits of fishermen willing to leave the fleet. The remaining fishermen in the fleet have since been responsible for the loans.

In 2011, the West Coast groundfish fishery supported 3,000 jobs and a catch valued at $64 million., 30 January 2014. Article (including full transcript).

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