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
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.
A full transcript of Cantwell’s exchanges with the witnesses follows.
Witness Panel 1
Senator Cantwell: Thank you Mr. Chairman and I do want to submit a statement for the record. I want to thank you for holding this hearing and for your aggressive approach to going around the country in various regions to talk about these issues. Being recently in the Pacific Northwest and focusing on a hearing as it related to our larger maritime industry – it is worth 30 billion dollars in annual economic activity and supports 57,000 direct jobs. So when we are talking about these issues for us, it’s big business. Mr. Stelle, I wanted to start with you. Thank you for bringing up where we are in the Pacific Northwest as far as management sometimes. So, one question: Are there still major fisheries being managed in the U.S. that need more data and better science, and are there any data-poor fisheries in the Pacific Northwest that could benefit from a major investment?
Mr. William Stelle, Regional Administrator, West Coast Region National Marine Fisheries Service: Yes on the first. And, I think, as I alluded to earlier, the Western Pacific is exhibit A on that point on data-poor fisheries. It is a major impediment. On the Pacific Coast, data-poor stocks, per se – Don, what do you think? How would you answer that?
Mr. Donald McIsaac, Executive Director Pacific Fishery Management Council: Yes, and thank you, Senator Cantwell. There are some data-poor stocks on the West Coast. When they become a bottleneck species, it can be a problem. We have a pretty good relationship with the (Northwest Fisheries) science center right now in coordinating how the science money is spent. But I would be remiss if I did not say that additional money for science on groundfish studies would be beneficial.
Senator Cantwell: Well, I should, yes. I wanted to talk about the ReFi Bill and get your input on that. With the rising cost of participating in a West Coast groundfish for more fishermen able to pay down their loans. What should we be doing on that? I mean, to me Magnuson-Stevens is not about the big broad changes. But the constant – staying on top of the industry needs in driving further efficiencies. Those resources help us drive further efficiencies where everybody wins. And so, I certainly agree with your philosophy on that. But anyway –on groundfish – any thoughts from either of you on that point?
Mr. Stelle: First of all on the weak-stock issue, it’s probably some of the bycatch stocks, where the data of stock assessments is most difficult. On the issue of buy-back and some of the financial features of the groundfish fishery – the two principle challenges, I think, are refinancing or financing the buyback loans is one category. And the second is the scheduled reduction and phase out of federal support for observer coverage. And those are two real substantial, immediate challenges facing the industry from a financial perspective.
Senator Cantwell: Mr. McIsaac, has the council looked at this issue, and do they have an opinion?
Mr. McIsaac: 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 fishermen 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. So, the council does feel like moving forward with refinancing a pretty old loan at a pretty high interest rate would be a good thing to do.
Senator Cantwell: Okay, and just quickly since I have about a minute left – hardly a subject for a minute – but how do the budget cuts as it relates to salmon affect our obligations as it relates to treaty rights? Either Mr. Moon or Mr. Stelle?
Mr. Mel Moon, Director of Natural Resources, Quileute Nation: Well, certainly the work we are doing on the coast is reaching a sustainability level. I know we’ve moved into management measures that have actually resulted in non-ESA situations on the coast. So those funds are well-spent. We are dealing with some plentiful stocks. Of course there’s a natural ebb and flow. It would really be good to be able to maintain that level.
Mr. Stelle: I’d flag two topics generally, Senator. The first is science on survivals – productivity and survivals. And in particular, near shore, early life stage, marine survivals. They are in the toilet, and we don’t know why. And so, it’s creating a muffling productivity.
Senator Cantwell: Is that about acidification?
Mr. Stelle: It could well be an indirect effect of changing acidification. So the first is productivity and the science around productivity. The second – as you well know – is habitat. If we continue with the long-term demographics, as we see them, and we don’t change the way we manage our landscapes, we’re going to be losing habitat. And that continued loss of habitat is loss of productivity, which is loss of those trust resources. So those are, I would say, are the two bigger challenges in salmon land. Salmon land management, per se, is quite sophisticated, quite stable, and in pretty good shape. So it’s a science issue and a habitat issue.
Senator Cantwell: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I know you want to get to the second panel, as do I.
Chair Mark Begich: No problem. Let me just clarify one thing. When you say habitat – do you mean upstream habitat?
Mr. Stelle: Yes sir. Riverine and estuarine.
Chair Begich: Thank you very much. That makes me more confident in the decision I made last week.
Senator Cantwell: Mr. Chairman – if I could just say – I know we are going to hear on the second panel about this issue. And certainly again I applaud you for working on this. When we start talking about the same impacts that shellfish have had from acidification, that the food source for salmon having the same challenge but certainly thank you for your local approach to all this.
Witness Panel 2
Cantwell: Thank you again, Mr. Chairman for this important hearing. I just want to say to Mr. (Michael) Goto (Fish Auctioneer United Fishing Agency, Ltd). the Chairman of this committee is making a name for himself here making sure that our colleagues – when it comes to disaster relief – understand that you can’t just aid the food product that grows out of the ground and ignore catastrophes we have in the ocean.
So I want to thank him for continuing to educate our colleagues on that – and on Frankenfish. He’s done a good job on both those issues. Dr. Branch, talk about the fin fish— salmon and whiting— as it relates to ocean acidification. What are the impacts? What are the concerns? I know you gave a great representation of how we are doing on the Pacific Council. Where we are juxtaposed to the rest of the world but don’t we have a looming issue with acidification and some of the things that were cited? Mr. Stelle’s comments about the near shore issue?
Dr. Trevor Branch, Assistant Professor, Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, University of Washington: Yes, for ocean acidification I think there are some unknown questions. Up until the last five or ten years it was thought that fish wouldn’t be affected at all by ocean acidification. It would mainly be bivalves, mollusks, clams and oysters and so on - which they are already affecting on the West Coast.
But some people have been doing research on clown fish of all things – the Nemos of the oceans. Showing that if you give them the choice of two sides of an experimental aquarium. One side containing the smell of a predator and the other side containing just seawater – usually they would avoid the side with the predator’s smell. But if you put them in slightly acidified water, back what you’d get before the turn of the century, they will choose the side with the predator’s smell in preference.
They actually think it’s an interesting smell to go and explore. They get bolder and less cautious. And if you take these same juvenile clown fish and you put them out in a reef, it turns out they get eaten about ten times more often than ones in regular sea water.
So this is something where – if this is true not only of clown fish and tropical reef fish but also of fish on the West Coast – this could be a big issue. We need to find out if that is true or not.
Cantwell: How can we leverage the acidification research? How can NOAA leverage what’s being done at the University of Washington’s Center on Acidification now? How can we work cooperatively? We meet fishermen all throughout our region that are ready to help participate in collecting data information.
Dr. Trevor Branch: I think the key, the new center at the University of Washington – thanks very much to funding for that – is going to be a key part in 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: Do we have the science that we need, Mr. Dazey?
Mr. Joe Dazey, executive director, Washington Trollers Association: I don’t know if we have enough science or not. 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.
Cantwell: So, we’re talking about a shellfish they feed on being affected, just as the shellfish industry has been affected?
Mr. Joe Dazey: That is correct.
Cantwell: And so, which was a very big threat and only data and information got us through this buoy system – the right kind of information to help in that seeding process. What would we do here if it is such a big food source for salmon?
Mr. Dazey: That’s correct. Copepods are a huge resource for salmon. One of the possibilities in doing the, that, sea collection of GSI samples, is collecting things like ocean acidity, or temperatures, other things beyond just the tissue samples form the fish. That of course, requires more efforts from the fisherman and taking time away from his primary business of catching fish.
Cantwell: Well, 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. 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.
I’m just going to ask Mr. Toste the access question about young fishermen and what we need to do to continue to make sure they have access.
Mr. Ray Toste, president and general manager, Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association: In Washington state, in the crab fishery, Phil Anderson, the director and I, got our heads together a couple years ago and we enacted a two-part bill to the Legislature. And it was on the transfer of crab permits. I think if you’re a young man and you’ve got a boat that you’re trolling with – the investment of crab gear is huge. The investment of crab gear and a permit make it impossible. I think, if there is some way to fund permits –
Now in Alaska, you have a banking system that does just that. At one time in Alaska, the permits couldn’t even be taken by the IRS or in the case of a divorce. So, a lot of guys were buying crab permits. The state of Alaska brought that to an end in a hurry. What we did is make the licenses transferrable every 365 days.
And the permit, if I’m selling this fellow my permit, say for 50 thousand dollars and he gives me $5 down, and he’s going to pay me over the next 10 years, I hold the permit in my name. He simply has an additional operator’s license, so that way I can finance the permit as I sell out. Which, when you get to my age, selling them out over a period of time is inviting. For the young man getting in, it’s inviting. It’s kind of helped there – I know it’s worked there on crab. But not a lot of other states do that. California is nearly impossible to buy into. And I think bankers, if they knew they could use a permit as collateral, would be an enormous help to getting people in.
Cantwell: Thank you. And, you know, my colleague, and I, Sen. Begich, had a listening session in Seattle. And it’s very clear there’s many aspects of the fishing industry -- whether it’s the permit issue or vessel issue -- that our friends in the banking industry don’t understand and yet, very, very solid , you know, managed resources. So it’s very predictable from that perspective. So , anyway, thank you, Mr. Chairman for all your indulgence in this very important issue -- not just to our region, but our whole nation. I really appreciate your leadership on it.
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