A national coalition of seafood industry and commercial fishery stakeholders is mobilizing against congressional legislation that would exclude commercial fishing from wide swaths of the nation's fisheries.

The House bill, filed in late October by U.S. Rep. Raul Grivalja of Arizona, seeks to use "marine protected areas" to ban all "commercial extractive use" across 30% of the nation's exclusive economic zone by 2030. The closures would be part of the so-called "30x30" strategy to conserve 30% of ocean habitat worldwide by the 2030 target date.

In a letter to Grivalja, more than 800 fishing stakeholders, including the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, framed the conservation-fueled proposal as an undermining threat to the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and an assault on the economic viability of fishing communities from New England to Alaska.

"Members are the commercial fishing industry are very concerned about the attempt to undermine the Magnuson Act via these proposed pieces of legislation," said Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition.

The signatories stated the bill could ignite an economic chain reaction that would result in "commercial fishermen unable to profitably harvest species they have been fishing for decades" and limit or halt new investments in equipment, hiring and innovation.

"Coastal communities dependent on commercial fishing will lose a major source of local revenue," they wrote to Grivalja.

The strategy, they stated, would encourage increased imports of foreign seafood and raise prices on a diminished seafood supply, further unsettling an essential link in the nation's food supply chain already reeling from the disastrous impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are genuinely taken aback that you are choosing to end 2020 by introducing legislation that puts the viability of our industry under a second dark cloud of uncertainty, for no discernible reason attached to meaningful improvements in conservation outcomes," the letter stated. "Why would you undermine these processes, and eviscerate stakeholder buy-in and trust, through the designation of new MPAs via a cabinet-level Task Force that will have no legitimacy with our industry and no bipartisan support?"

Two signatories — Linda Behnken, of the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, and Mike Conroy of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations in San Francisco — combined on an opinion piece for The Hill online site in which they said the campaign of President-elect Joseph Biden already has embraced the 30x30 strategy.

An earlier New York Times report quoted Biden saying he will sign an executive order on his first day in office "to conserve 30% of United States land and waters by 2030."

"Our work to conserve our sensitive ocean spaces has helped make American fisheries the most sustainable in the world," Behken and Conroy wrote. "Despite these accomplishments, the most connected and well-financed proponents of 30x30 are seeking to implement no-take marine protected areas in U.S. oceans without serious input from fishing stakeholders."

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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