At the time of the writing of this column, the American Fisheries Advisory Committee Act (S. 497) (the “act”) is sitting on the President’s desk awaiting a signature. We are operating under the assumption that the President will sign this bipartisan piece of legislation.
The act would enable the fishing industry to have a say in how certain fisheries research and development funds are allocated, particularly funding opportunities available under the Saltsonstall-Kennedy (S-K) Program. In early May, NOAA Fisheries announced that it was funding 44 projects totaling over $11.8 million under S-K programs.
Legislation passed in 1939 empowered the Secretary of Commerce to “carry out a national program of research and development addressed to such aspects of United States fisheries (including, but not limited to, harvesting, processing, marketing and associated infrastructures)” (15 USC §713c-3(d)(1).
When originally implemented, an advisory committee was established to oversee the S–K Fund’s activity, but that committee was disbanded when the Federal Advisory Committee Act was signed into law in 1972. Since then NOAA has decided, under its own criteria, how to distribute those funds.
According to the Senate Report, “funds have been distributed by NOAA either as grants or to fund internal projects.” According to that same report, concerns have been raised that NOAA does not distribute grants in accordance with the S–K Fund’s governing statute.
For example, of the 36 grants given out by NOAA in 2018, only six were intended to “improve the marketing of fish.” In the most recent round of S-K Grant fundings, the following 12 projects were funded with a funding priority of Promotion, Development and Marketing:
- Saltwater, Inc – Kachemak Bay Kelp Processing & Distribution Hub: Removing a Bottleneck to Growth in the Alaska Seaweed Industry.
- Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers – Increasing Consumer Awareness of and Confidence in the Sustainability of Alaska’s Crab Fisheries.
- Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County – A Regional Effort to Increase Monkfish Domestic Demand Through Product Development and Audience Expansion.
- Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance Inc – Meet the Fleet: Expanding domestic seafood consumption by connecting the public and fishing communities.
- Gulf of Maine Research Institute – Building Awareness and Demand for Gulf of Maine Seafood through Business Partnerships.
- Kuaaina Ulu Auamo – Collective Grassroots Pathways Toward Restorative Aquaculture: Removing Invasives and Bringing Back Native Species.
- Pacific Islands Fisheries Group– Development, promotion and marketing of locally caught Alfonsin in Hawaii’s seafood market and restaurants.
- Pacific Islands Fisheries Group– Development of Mariana Islands Ika and Monchong Fishery.
- Mariana Islands Nature Alliance (MINA) – Optimizing economic benefits for fishing communities across the Pacific by enhancing artisanal pelagic fishing through Smart-aFAD networks.
- Quintessence Marine – From Problem to Opportunity: Creation of a Robust Nontraditional Market for Lionfish Byproducts and Protecting U.S. Fish Stocks from the Invasive Lionfish.
- Southeastern SeaProducts Inc.– Hybridization in Clams to Achieve Efficiency and Larger Markets.
- Live Advantage Bait LLC – Economic Evaluation of Four Shellfish Species to determine Aquaculture Commercial Viability, Break-even Values and Risk Assessment.
- Family Resource Center of the Redwoods – Del Norte Sea to Market Fish Landing Facilities and Local Fishery Development, Marketing and Promotion.
- Positively Groundfish – A retail-focused marketing outreach and training program and a supporting market research program designed to increase sales of underutilized West Coast Groundfish species in domestic grocery retail.
The primary purpose of the act is to create an industry-led committee, the American Fisheries Advisory Committee (the “committee”) to assist in administration of fisheries marketing research and development grants. In a statement earlier this year, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said that once the bill is signed into law, “our fishermen will again have a seat at the table to offer appropriate input and oversight of the Saltonstall-Kennedy grant process (and) identify opportunities for improvement and growth.”
The committee of 22 would include three members appointed by the Secretary of Commerce from each of the six geographic regions identified in the act, with Region 1 consisting of Alaska, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Territories of Guam and American Samoa.
Region 2 would consist of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut; Region 3 shall consist of Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, Puerto Rico and the Territory of the Virgin Islands of the United States.
Region 4 would consist of California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Region 5 would be made up of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Region 6 would consist of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Of the three individuals from each region, one would have experience as a seafood harvester or processor; one shall have experience as recreational or commercial fisher or have experience growing seafood, and one shall be an individual who represents the fisheries science community or the relevant Regional Fishery Management Council.
There is also a requirement that members of the committee be selected so that the members have experience or expertise with as many seafood species as practicable.
There are also four at-large members who would be appointed to the committee: one person with experience in food distribution, marketing, retail or food service; one with experience in the recreational fishing industry supply chain; one with experience in the commercial fishing industry supply chain, and one who’s an employee of the National Marine Fisheries Service with expertise in fisheries research.
The act also requires the Secretary to seek a “balanced representation of expertise in United States fisheries, seafood production and science.”
The committee’s role is clearly defined in the act. It shall: (1) identify the needs of the fishing community that may be addressed by a project funded with a grant (2) develop the request for proposals for such grants (3) review applications for such grants, and (4) select applications for approval under subsection.
The act also adds fisheries science and recreational fishing as aspects of U.S. fisheries for which S-K grant funds, carrying out research and development projects, can be used.
The act is clearly well-intentioned. We too have heard the complaints about how S-K grant priorities have gone astray from Congressional intent. To the extent this ensures the fishing industry has a seat at the table when funding priorities are identified and then awarded, we are fully supportive.
We would be remiss if we did not offer our sincere thanks and appreciation to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Sullivan and co-sponsors Senators Murkowski, Cantwell, Warren, Markey, Rubio and Warnock. On the House side, the late Congressman Don Young led the charge. He was a tremendous advocate for our industry and will be sorely missed. It is a testament to his legacy that the bill passed out of the House by a margin of 404 yes votes to 11 nays, with 14 members not voting.
As with most legislative initiatives that pass the Congress, the real work will begin when the act’s provisions are implemented by the Secretary of Commerce. We hope the secretary will engage all fishing community members to ensure the committee is structured in a way that leads to its success.
Mike Conroy is the Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and its sister organization, Institute for Fisheries Resources. He can be reached at via email: email@example.com or by cell phone: (415) 638-9730.