Congressional Bills Introduced to Restrict Bottom Trawling

File photo.

Two bills that would restrict bottom trawling, recently introduced in Congress by Rep. Mary Peltola, R-Alaska, are drawing kudos from commercial longliners, crabbers and salmon fishermen and criticism from the state’s pollock fishery.

The Bycatch Reduction and Mitigation Act, introduced in the U.S. House on May 22, would authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program at $10 million for five years.

The Bycatch Mitigation Assistance Fund to be established under that program would be administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help harvesters and vessel owners purchase new gear or technology to reduce bycatch, including salmon excluders.

The Bottom Trawl Clarity Act would mandate that federal fishery management councils that permit use of bottom trawl gear define the terms “substantial” versus “limited” bottom contact. The act would also require designation of Bottom Trawl Zones, limiting areas where gear that scrapes the sea floor is allowed.

Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken said introduction of the bills let Alaskans know Peltola is listening to their concerns and will work with fishermen and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to rebuild stocks, protect habitat and safeguard fishing communities.

“Alaska fishermen are fortunate to have Rep. Peltola in our corner, working hard for the long-term,” Behnken said.

Amy Sparck, executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, spoke of years of frustration testifying before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council about salmon bycatch in the groundfish fisheries.

“With mere decades under official fisheries management, compared to over 10,000 years of sustainable fishing in our indigenous communities, our rivers are now in ‘crisis management’ with zero opportunity for salmon for Alaskans,” Sparck said.

“As scientists recently revealed, current fishing practices by the pelagic trawl fleet offers a distinction without a difference when it comes to comparing them to bottom trawlers,” Gabriel Prout, president of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers said. “They are both fishing on the bottom and both cover a massive footprint in Alaska’s offshore waters.”

The demise of salmon from the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers has been the subject of heated controversy at council meetings, with probable causes offered ranging from extensive bycatch to environmental changes due to a warming climate.

The day after Peltola introduced the legislation, the Alaska Pollock Fishery Alliance, which is affiliated with the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, posted on social media that the Bottom Trawl Clarity Act would threaten a significant number of jobs in the fishing and seafood sectors, many in remote coastal communities where alternative employment options are limited.

The APFA contends that the Bottom Trawl Clarity Act failed to build on the lessons of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act “and instead imposes unworkable and burdensome new federal mandates on regional decision makers.”

“This legislation would limit the flexibility to manage fisheries based on the best available science,” they said.