Legislative Provision Enhances Viability of Trawl Fishery, Offers Critical Economic Relief to Fishermen

December 17, 2019.— Today, the House passed H.R. 1865, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, one of two minibus appropriations bills that provides government funding for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2020. The spending bill included a provision that addresses the additional costs to fishermen caused by the delay in originally implementing an industry fee system to repay the loan that financed the trawl portion of the Pacific Coast groundfish fishing capacity reduction program (“West Coast buyback program”). The bill is expected to be signed by the President after Senate passage later this week.

“This has been a long and difficult process to deal with the burdensome costs imposed on West Coast trawl groundfish fishermen resulting from the government’s inaction on the payment program,” said Heather Mann, Executive Director, Midwater Trawlers Cooperative. “Thankfully, members of Congress from the West Coast stepped up to deliver a solution that will provide economic relief and benefits to coastal communities.”

After the Secretary of Commerce declared the West Coast groundfish fishery an economic disaster in 2000, Congress enacted the West Coast buyback program on February 20, 2003, with the objective of reducing the fishery’s harvesting capacity and helping to financially stabilize the fishery. After expending the loan proceeds, however, for nearly two years the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) inexplicably failed to implement a repayment mechanism to allow the remaining vessels to start paying off the loan. That delay resulted in millions of dollars in interest on the program, adding an unanticipated burden on the remaining trawl groundfish fishermen.

“This was not a problem of our making, yet our fishermen were forced to shoulder the additional cost of the loan because of the government’s delay in establishing a way for fishermen to repay the loan,” said Brent Paine, Executive Director, United Catcher Boats. “Congress recognized the inequity of the situation and provided the necessary relief.”

Under the original program, NMFS provided a $28.4 million loan to for the West Coast buyback program to finance a fishing vessel capacity reduction program in limited entry trawl groundfish fishery. NMFS subsequently established an industry fee system for repaying the federal loan. Despite significant payment made by industry since 2005, the amount remaining on the loan for the limited entry trawl groundfish fishery is still nearly $20 million. The provision in H.R. 1865 will significantly reduce the amounts due on the loan, and thereby the fees paid by the fishermen.

“Our fishermen greatly appreciate this bipartisan effort by Congress,” said Travis Hunter, president, Fishermen’s Marketing Association. “This bill will help our coastal communities and enhance the viability of the trawl groundfish fishery.”

Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) led the effort in the Senate. In the House, Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4), Jared Huffman (D-CA-2), Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5), and Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA-3), along with Greg Walden (R-OR-2), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR-3), Rick Larsen (D-WA-2), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1), Derek Kilmer (D-WA-6), Suzan DelBene (D-WA-1), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-7), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), and Anna Eshoo (D-CA-18), pushed for Congress to act on this provision.

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Midwater Trawlers Cooperative (MTC) is a not-for-profit trade association based in Newport, Oregon. MTC represents 29 trawl catcher vessels that are home-ported in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. MTC members participate in the shoreside and at-sea mothership whiting fisheries and the traditional and midwater groundfish trawl fisheries off the West Coast.

United Catcher Boats (UCB) was established in 1993 to represent owners of catcher vessels that trawl for groundfish in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, Gulf of Alaska, and West Coast commercial fisheries. UCB represents the interests of 69 trawl catcher vessels that currently participate in the Alaska Pollock and Pacific cod mid-water and bottom trawl fisheries and the West Coast mid-water Whiting fishery.

Fisherman’s Marketing Association (FMA) is a non-profit trade organization based in Eureka, CA. FMA represents groundfish trawlers that are home ported in California, Oregon and Washington. FMA members participate in the West Coast groundfish fishery using bottom and midwater trawl gear.