Aug 29 2016

Letters: Why Does President Obama Want to Eliminate Sustainable Commercial Fisheries?

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Letters] August 29, 2016


Dear Seafood News Editor,

“Help us identify Champions who are helping the ongoing recovery of America’s fishing industry and fishing communities,” Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and Council of Environmental Quality Director Christy Goldfuss posted on the White House Blog on August 10.   They were appealing for nominees for this year’s White House Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood.”

The blogpost had many complimentary things to say about our U.S. commercial fisheries:

“America’s fishers, and our seafood industry, have fed Americans and their families since our nation’s beginning. What’s more, this industry remains critical to the economic health and well-being of communities across the country.

“After decades of decline, we are witnessing the economic and ecological recovery of America’s fishing industry.  Overfishing has hit an all-time low, and many stocks are returning to sustainable levels. The U.S. fishing industry contributed nearly $200 billion annually to the American economy in 2014 and supports 1.7 million jobs.

“This shift did not come easy.  It took hard work, collaboration, and sacrifice by many across the country. Although there’s still more to do, America’s fisherman have led the way to the United States becoming a global leader in sustainable seafood management.

“This turnaround is a story about innovative ways to catch fish and other seafood sustainably, and connect fishers with their customers. It is a story about the value of science and management working together, and a willingness to make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow. And it is a story about sustaining a proud livelihood that is the backbone of so many coastal communities nationwide.

“President Obama and his Administration want to honor America’s fishers and our coastal communities for their efforts.”

We agree with everything Secretary Pritzker and Director Golfuss said.

Yet on Friday, August 26, President Obama announced he was expanding the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating the world’s largest marine protected area. The fact sheet stated:  “Building on the United States’ global leadership in marine conservation, today’s designation will more than quadruple the size of the existing marine monument, permanently protecting pristine coral reefs, deep sea marine habitats, and important ecological resources in the waters of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.”

But President Obama’s executive order, authorized under the Antiquities Act, also prohibited commercial fishing in an area increased by 442,781 square miles, bringing the total protected area of the expanded monument to 582,578 square miles.   This unilateral action happened without the transparency, science-based decision-making and robust public process trumpeted in the President’s own National Ocean Policy, nor the bipartisan Congressionally mandated Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which requires fisheries to be managed under a transparent, science-based process administered by regional fishery management councils.

The announcement precipitated extreme disappointment from commercial fishermen and Council members alike, who decried the lack of science and economic pain inflicted on sustainable fisheries and fishing communities. “Closing 60 percent of Hawaii’s waters to commercial fishing, when science is telling us that it will not lead to more productive local fisheries, makes no sense,” said Edwin Ebiusi Jr., chair of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council.  “Today is a sad day in the history of Hawaii’s fisheries and a negative blow to our local food security.”

“It serves a political legacy rather than any conservation benefits …” said Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds.  “The campaign to expand the monument was organized by a multibillion dollar, agenda-driven environmental organization…  The President obviously chose not to balance the interests of Hawaii’s community, which has been divided on this issue,” she added.  Fisheries are the state’s top food producer, according the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

“Our party’s over,” wrote Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association, but the monument lobbying effort continues on the east coast and off California, where well-heeled environmental advocates are lobbying to close productive sea mounts in New England, as well as most of the offshore seamounts, banks and ridges off the California coast, all of which are critically important to the long-term sustainability of commercial fisheries in those regions.

On both the east and west coast, fishermen, allied seafood companies and business interests as well as the regional fishery management councils have mounted vigorous opposition to the use of unilateral executive order under the Antiquities Act to manage fisheries.   They point to existing National Ocean Policy promises and the Magnuson Act, which require science-based decision-making and robust stakeholder involvement.  A transparent process that includes scientific and economic analysis and public involvement already exists through the MSA and fishery management councils.    Why not use it?

This Administration’s disrespect for Congressional mandate and its own ocean policies begs the question:  Why does this President want to curtail sustainable fisheries?

D.B. Pleschner
Executive Director
California Wetfish Producers Association

Michael Ramsingh 1-732-240-5330
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D.B. Pleschner is executive director of the California Wetfish Producers Association, a nonprofit dedicated to research and to promote sustainable Wetfish resources. More info at

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