New Group Aims to Speak For Chorus of Fishing Interests

Thursday, June 12 2014

Commercial fishermen are used to working -- and advocating -- for themselves. Now, a new industry group is trying to pull those interests together under one roof.  

Seafood Harvesters of America is "a national commercial fishing organization here in D.C. to be the voice of fishermen on federal issues," says executive director Brett Veerhusen.

Lobbying isn't necessarily the way to do that. Veerhusen says he’s trying to find common ground among the dozen or so regional fishing groups that have signed up for membership.

In the past, it hasn’t been easy to get those groups to work together.

"If somebody has an issue, it’s a listserv," says Brent Paine with United Catcher Boats. "It’s an internet listserv, basically. If they want a little help, they’ll throw a shoutout: 'Help! I need something with this issue.' And they can develop some support from other regions."

The trade association that Paine leads in Seattle is for trawlers. They were one of the first groups to join the Seafood Harvesters of America.

Alaska’s heavily represented, but trade groups from the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico are also on board.

Veerhusen says he’s trying to develop an agenda that's relevant in all of those regions. Some issues are high-profile -- like changes that Congress might make to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Then, there’s incidental wastewater discharge.

"It’s not being talked about enough by fishermen because we haven’t had to deal with it," Veerhusen says.

For years, fishing vessels were exempted from the Environmental Protection Agency’s wastewater rules by a moratorium.

"But right now, that moratorium is set to expire," Veerhusen says. "And if it does expire, small vessels will be required to get a ridiculous, bureaucratic discharge permit for deckwash."

And that could have a far-reaching economic impact. Veerhusen should know: Until very recently, he owned his own fishing vessel. But he sold it off to join the Seafood Harvesters of America.

For now, Veerhusen’s the only employee at the organization's office in Washington.

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