About Matt Tinning

Executive Director, Marine Fish Conservation Network. Follow me: @MattTinning.

House bill renews fight against seafood fraud; wins accolades from US fishermen

In some good news from Capitol Hill today, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) re-introduced critical legislation aimed at combating rampant seafood mislabeling and moving us towards a traceability system for seafood bought and sold in the United States. He was joined by a bipartisan group of original cosponsors: Walter Jones (R-NC), John Tierney (D-MA), Bill Keating (D-MA), Lois Capps (D-CA) and Jo Bonner (R-AL). Below is our statement commending the new legislation.

Washington, DC—American fishermen lose money every day as a result of mislabeled seafood, but Congress is renewing its efforts to change that. In a bold step towards creating a national seafood traceability system that could combat rampant seafood mislabeling, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers today re-introduced the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood Act.

The House legislation, of which Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) is the lead sponsor, has the potential to lay the groundwork for a national seafood traceability system in the United States. It comes in the wake of yet another round of revelations about the extent of seafood mislabeling. A study released by advocacy group Oceana last month found that one-third of 1215 samples analyzed nationwide were mislabeled according to US Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

Matt Tinning, Executive Director of the Marine Fish Conservation Network, said today: “Seafood fraud hurts fishermen around the country, from Boston to the Bering Sea. In the face of overwhelming evidence about the scale of the problem, our government must act with urgency. Thankfully, some leaders in Congress have got the memo; today’s bill takes a stand for America’s fishermen.”

Tom Dempsey, Policy Director of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association in Chatham, MA agrees. “More than ever, consumers are looking to support sustainable American fisheries. But, without transparency in the supply chain, it’s nearly impossible to make that kind of informed decision. Whether it’s horse meat sold as beef or some cheap seafood substitute touted as quality American product, we can’t tolerate fraud when it comes to our food. It’s unfair and unsafe. The SAFE Seafood Act can move us towards a level playing field that America’s commercial fishermen need and consumers deserve.”

Shockingly, Oceana’s study found just seven of 120 samples of red snapper purchased nationwide were correctly labeled, with tests identifying the remaining 113 samples as another fish. Those findings have been greeted with dismay by commercial red snapper fishermen.

“It’s frustrating as hell”, said Donny Waters, a co-founder of Gulf Coast Professional Fishermen, who fishes primarily for red snapper out of Pensacola, FL. “I work hard every day to bring a quality product to American consumers. It’s been shocking to discover how often seafood lovers around the country are victims of a bait and switch. They deserve far better—and so do I.”

House to disaster-hit fishermen: you’re on your own

Today the House of Representatives will take long-awaited action to assist victims of Superstorm Sandy. But shamefully, disaster-hit fishermen will receive little or no respite.

We’ve been tracking and promoting efforts to secure fisheries disaster funding here at FishHQ for some months. Readers know the Sandy legislation that passed the Senate included $150 million for those devastated by fisheries disasters. Potential beneficiaries include fishermen in New York and New Jersey who’s livelihoods have been destroyed by Sandy. They also include those devastated by analogous disasters in Alaska, Mississippi and New England — all formally recognized by the Secretary of Commerce, and all caused by factors entirely outside fishermen’s control.

A package crafted by House leadership, however, excluded fisheries disaster funding. And last night, the House Rules Committee chose to allow just 13 of 94 amendments that had been filed by Members to be offered on the House floor. Among those excluded: amendments from Massachusetts and New Jersey lawmakers that sought to reinstate fisheries disaster funding. A substantial amendment package that will be offered by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) — to add an additional $33 billion in funds, bringing the total package close to the Senate level — includes just $5 million in fisheries disaster funding, and limits beneficiaries to those suffering Sandy-related losses.

The House’s failure to provide disaster assistance to fishermen in desperate need is outrageous; and unfortunately, the odds of overcoming their intransigence through any Senate or Conference action do not look good.

Ghosts of 2012: fisheries funding is unfinished business for the new Congress

As members of the 113th Congress are sworn in today, they face inboxes overflowing with business left unfinished by the 112th. Two of the biggest outstanding items — the Sandy relief package and resolution of the budget sequestration extended in the ‘fiscal cliff’ agreement — have serious implications for our nation’s fisheries.

Let’s look first at the Sandy debacle. The frustration expressed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday is shared by fishermen around the country who have suffered harm as a result of natural disasters hitting specific fisheries upon which their livelihoods depend. That’s because the Sandy relief package is the vehicle through which such funding, if it’s to be provided at all, will be appropriated. As FishHQ readers know, the package that passed the Senate in December included $150 million in critical fisheries disaster funding. However, the outgoing House, despite promises from its leadership to the contrary, failed to schedule a vote.

The good news is that Speaker Boehner has now re-committed to getting this done, and has slated House floor time for tomorrow and January 15. But even if a relief package ultimately does pass, there’s no guarantee that fisheries disaster funding will survive. As we noted recently, some have misguidedly attacked fishery disaster funding as ‘pork’, and a concerted effort to strip the funding was mounted in the Senate — and can be expected in the House.

And then there’s sequestration. Yep, you’re right, that was supposed to be settled in any fiscal cliff deal. But the best New Year’s Eve negotiators could do was defer across-the-board spending cuts by two months. As we’ve noted before, if sequestration were to take effect it would spell serious trouble for the information infrastructure upon which modern fisheries management depends. Specifically, it could rip 8.2 percent out of the ‘Operations, Research and Facilities’ (ORF) account of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, imposing further austerity on the ‘wet side’ of NOAA, with both the health of our fisheries and the prevalence of fishing opportunities destined to suffer.

Everyone in Washington has a theory about how the sequestration drama will play out. But amidst all the punditry and political games, it’s vital that we don’t lose sight of what the on-the-water impacts of across-the-board cuts would mean.

On sequestration, and fisheries disaster funding, the 113th Congress has plenty of work to do.

Word to the wise: salmon ain’t pork

The tragically epic proportions of Superstorm Sandy remain fresh in the nation’s memory — and its painful impacts are still being felt by many in the region. Congress is inching towards passing a disaster assistance package that can provide some measure of relief. That’s welcome news for all those who suffered in Sandy’s path — including the region’s fishermen.

Last month we urged Congress to act during its lame duck session, to provide funding for fisheries disasters that have been officially declared — not only in states impacted by Sandy, but also certain fisheries in New England, Mississippi and Alaska where a formal disaster declaration has been made by the Secretary of Commerce.

With the Sandy disaster package being prepared, our friends in Congress stepped up and successfully included $150 million in funding to help those devastated by these disasters. In response, a number of media outlets and commentators have condemned such spending, labeling it as ‘pork’.

Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) has been a champion for fishermen and coastal communities affected by fisheries disasters.

Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) has been among those lawmakers who have championed the cause of fishermen and coastal communities devastated by fisheries disasters.

Well. Let’s be very clear about one thing: the fishermen and coastal communities who are struggling to survive in the face of these disasters desperately need our help. Fisheries disaster declarations are no arbitrary process: they are made in accordance with statute, specifically the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Among the many hoops that must be cleared to satisfy the National Marine Fisheries Service Disaster Assistance Policy, the causes of any claimed disaster must be beyond the control of fishery managers to mitigate through conservation and management measures. In other words, economic hardship precipitated by overfishing or other poor management practices are not grounds to make a claim.

Sure, let’s have a debate about fiscal responsibility and the deficit. It’s only proper that lawmakers and interest groups scrutinize government spending and debate the difficult tradeoffs that must be made between revenue and expenditure. But to target emergency funding for fishermen and coastal communities who through no fault of their own find their livelihoods jeopardized, and to characterize it as some kind of new “bridge to nowhere”, is deeply insulting.

Just like Sandy’s victims, these folks deserve our compassion, not contempt. We’ll continue to work with our friends on Capitol Hill, and do everything possible to ensure they receive some measure of relief.

DeMint resignation is a big deal for fish

The DC political world is atwitter today with news that Senator Jim DeMint will exit the Senate next month to lead the Heritage Foundation. This is a huge development — not only for political conservatives, but also for fish geeks.

Jim DeMint was in line to succeed Texan Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison as Ranking Member on the powerful Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Accordingly, he would have joined Alaska’s Mark Begich atop the panel with oversight of the Department of Commerce, including NOAA.

There was real disquiet among DC ocean types about what that would have meant: not because of Senator DeMint’s prominent fiscal and social conservatism, but because of his institutional tactics and approach to procedure. DeMint would have been the Senate’s first tea party chairman, and it was widely anticipated that he’d employ the same stonewalling tactics he’s used repeatedly since joining the Senate in his new role. Republican committee staff, most expected, would completely turn over. And a Senate committee with a long history of bipartisan action, many feared, would become ineffectual — potentially for the next six years.

With today’s announcement, that threat recedes. Although positions are not yet confirmed for next Congress, Senator John Thune (R-SD) is likely to be the new Ranking Member. He is a conservative Republican, but he’s no iconoclast. For those who want to see meaningful and functional oversight of NOAA in the years to come, The Heritage Foundation’s gain is also ours.

NOAA proposes new coral listings under ESA

Don’t start your weekend just yet.

A draft proposal released by the National Marine Fisheries Service today seeks to list 66 coral species under the Endangered Species Act. That’s a huge number, potentially more than doubling the total number of listed species under NOAA’s purview.

Staghorn coral; Photo credit Frank Starmer; CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Staghorn coral; Photo credit Frank Starmer; CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

More from the agency’s announcement:

  • “In the Pacific, seven species would be listed as endangered and 52 as threatened.
  • “In the Caribbean, five would be listed as endangered and two as threatened.
  • “In addition, we are proposing that two Caribbean species—elkhorn and staghorn corals—already listed under the ESA be reclassified from threatened to endangered.”

Today’s proposal doesn’t come out of the blue. On the contrary, the Biological Review Team that considered the listings was convened more than two years ago; and a public engagement process was conducted by the agency earlier this year. Still, it’s fair to expect that this issue is about to become a whole lot more prominent and attract far more interest — including from fishermen.

Should fishermen be worried? Well, yes. The most frightening part of today’s agency proposal is the science that underpins it. Twenty-five percent of marine fish call coral reefs home. And this makes clear that they face myriad threats. Of the 19 specific threats identified, the three major ones relate to climate change — namely rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and disease. For the last generation the principal threat to the health of US fisheries has been overfishing. Today’s announcement is another reminder that for the next generation the array of threats may be more diverse — and the solutions may be even more challenging.

How any final ESA listing impacts fishing opportunities remains to be seen. It’s worth noting that there’ll be no immediate action. Rather, this starts the clock on a 90-day comment period that will include public hearings. It’s also important to remember that any final listing should do nothing to reduce catch limits in any federal fishery — although it may have implications for how those fish are caught.

The bottom line is that ocean fisheries don’t exist in a vacuum — they’re part of a complex marine ecosystem that must be healthy if our fisheries are to remain productive. Today’s announcement is a reminder that in key parts of that ecosystem, all is not well.

Lame duck Congress must provide fisheries disaster funding

Senators and Members of Congress have returned to Washington this week for what promises to be an action-packed ‘lame duck’ session. All eyes are on the fiscal cliff — the resolution of which, as I wrote last month, will potentially have a big impact on the health of our nation’s fisheries. But for many fishermen there’s another urgent action item on the congressional ‘to do’ list: providing emergency funding to alleviate the impact of federal fisheries disasters.

As FishHQ readers know well, America’s federal fisheries are increasingly sustainable and healthy. But in some specific fisheries this year, external climactic shocks have taken their toll. In September, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank issued disaster declarations for certain fisheries in the Northeast, Mississippi and Alaska; and since then Hurricane Sandy has done enormous damage to fisheries in New Jersey and New York.

It should come as little surprise that the difference between a token and a meaningful federal disaster declaration is cold hard cash. And in case anyone was in any doubt, that’s not a commodity in boundless supply right now in Washington, DC. President Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress may have adopted very different negotiating positions for how to address the fiscal cliff, but both agree that some serious belt-tightening will be involved.

Still, the lame duck is likely to consider emergency funding for victims of Hurricane Sandy, and potentially also for farmers devastated by drought. Our view is that fisheries disaster assistance needs to be appropriated in any such funding package that gains traction on Capitol Hill. And earlier today we wrote to House and Senate leaders to reinforce that view.

We’ll be sure to keep you updated as the lame duck session gets underway, and the potential for disaster funds to reach fishing communities in need becomes clearer.


New representation for many US fishermen

When I wrote earlier in the week that this was a ‘change’ election for fisheries, I was thinking in part about fishermen around the country who will have new representation in the United States Congress. Many fishermen have relied on the same representatives to promote their interests in Washington for years or even decades, only to see them retiring or defeated in their reelection efforts. I won’t bore FishHQ readers with a detailed analysis of every freshman and their likely fisheries bent (which takes restraint for a junkie like me…), but I do want to flag some key places where things are a-changin’. Stay tuned for analysis of Senate turnover, and shifts in committee and leadership slots. For today, we’ll focus on the House.

It should be noted up front that there will be plenty of constants in the House of Representatives over the next two years. Republicans retained control, for one thing. Furthermore, a number of Members who faced spirited challenges in coastal districts were returned by voters. In California, for example, Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps has represented her Santa Barbara-centered coastal district since 2003, and prevailed despite being a top Republican target. In Florida, freshman Republican Congressman Steve Southerland was returned despite a spirited challenge that attracted the support of many in the ocean community. But in numerous other districts, the oath of office will be taken by someone new on January 3rd.

In New England, we’ve known for almost a year that generational change was certain — ever since veteran Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) announced his retirement. It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this transition. Frank was a passionate advocate for fishermen in Massachusetts, most especially those from the Port of New Bedford, in his district. He routinely raised fisheries issues at the highest levels of the administration. Indeed, rumor has it that he made specific fisheries asks of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the midst of complex negotiations regarding Wall Street reform — over which he had enormous leverage as Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Love Barney or not, it’s simply impossible to imagine anyone filling those shoes. New Bedford will now be represented by Congressman Bill Keating. Rep. Keating was elected to the House in 2011, and will add New Bedford to his representation of other Massachusetts fishermen — including those on the Cape.

Elsewhere in New England, there’s déjà vu for New Hampshire fishermen, with Carol Shea-Porter winning her rematch against Frank Guinta. Shea-Porter previously held the seat, from 2007-2011.

Down in Florida, there’s a similarly seismic House transition. Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been a tireless advocate for those who fish out of the Florida Keys. Her seniority in the House majority, combined with her political acumen, made her a key congressional player. That may be maintained to some degree, with her continued tenure in the House assured. But redistricting means that she no longer represents The Keys; and incumbent Republican David Rivera, who was in line to take the mantle, was defeated by Democratic challenger Joe Garcia. As a freshman serving in the minority, Garcia will need to work hard to ensure his fishermen maintain their considerable influence on Capitol Hill.

There will be new faces from out west, too. One freshman who is likely to emerge as a prominent voice on fisheries is Congressman-elect Jared Huffman. Huffman’s new district spans the Northern California coast — an area he has represented in the State Assembly since 2006. Further north, in Washington state, powerful Democratic appropriator Norm Dicks is retiring — another ‘old bull’ departure that will change the tenor of Capitol Hill deal-making. He’s being succeeded by Derek Kilmer, a State Senator, whose new district will include Gig Harbor.

Finally, the new House will include a freshman from Hawaii. The second congressional district, which encompasses almost all of Hawaii with the exception of Honolulu, will be represented by Tulsi Gabbard, Gabbard racked up a whopping 89% of the vote on Tuesday, so holding her seat is unlikely to be at the top of her list of concerns. She previously served as Hawaii’s youngest-ever state legislator and is an Iraq War veteran.

Missing the election already?? Not to worry — there’s one more coastal House race yet to be decided. The important third congressional district of Louisiana is headed for a December 8th run-off between two incumbent Republicans: Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry. Louisiana’s shrimpers are likely to be watching closely, and so will we.

I’ll have more on the fascinating emerging dynamics of the 113th Congress soon. We know y’all will be waiting on the edge of your seats.

Effort to ‘Sink Southerland’ goes down … but it sure raised some blood pressures

The battle for control of the US House of Representatives played out Tuesday in 435 separate electoral contests — all shaped by the presidential race at the top of the ticket, but all with their own local dynamics. In some coastal House races, fisheries were an important issue for voters. In one such race — for Florida’s second congressional district — the incumbent was targeted squarely for defeat by an environmental Political Action Committee called Ocean Champions. The group ran a campaign termed ‘Sink Southerland’, declaring Congressman Steve Southerland ‘Ocean Enemy #1′.

This was not a campaign in which we were engaged. But careful FishHQ readers will recall that we’ve had some serious concerns about actions taken by Mr. Southerland during his freshman term. We shared back in August our take on an extraordinary congressional field hearing Mr. Southerland hosted in Panama City, which we viewed as an effort to score cheap political points rather than grapple with the complex issues facing panhandle anglers.

When all the votes were counted, Rep. Southerland was returned with a 52.8%-47.7% margin.. But that doesn’t mean a few of his allies weren’t panicking on election eve. For your reading pleasure we’ve extracted in full below a rather animated email from one of them: Captain Bob Zales II, a charter boat captain in the region and a key Southerland ally. Spoiler alert: he ain’t happy.

—–Original Message—–
From: Bob Zales
Sent: Mon, Nov 5, 2012 5:17 pm
Subject: FW: Want the Inside Scoop on Sink Southerland?

For everyone to see how the EXTREMISTS, WACKO, SCUM OF THE EARTH ENVIROS work in trying to eliminate fishermen and boaters and all users of our resources from the water, take a look at the email below from Dave Wilmot co-founder and self declared President of ocean champions.  I know dave have sat on nmfs advisory panels with him and can tell you from personal experience that his mission in life is to eliminate fishermen and users of our resources from free access to our oceans.  He is just one example of the EXTREMISTS, WACKO, SCUM OF THE EARTH ENVIROS who spend not just thousands of unearned money, but millions of dollars to end our way of life, harm our families, and destroy our communities.

Yes, hell yes, if you are one of these EXTREMISTS, WACKO, SCUM OF THE EARTH ENVIROS, this message is also for you and comes from BOB ZALES, II, Charter Captain and family member of a 47 year business.  As a disclaimer for any of the other idiot supporters of these EXTREMISTS, WACKO, SCUM OF THE EARTH ENVIROS, know that this message if from me, by me, and me alone and not approved by any organization I am affiliated with although I highly suspect the vast majority of the people who are also members feel the same as me.

Folks, this is why we can’t fish. Why we have to run miles around areas closed to fishing, why we have 90% of our seafood imported, why we have lost thousands of fishing jobs, have families who have lost their heritage, and communities in despair.  Next time you see an EDF, Ocean Conservancy, Marine Fish Conservation Network, Oceana, Pew and any other extremist enviro member or supporter, thank them, for working so hard to end your way of life.

For those who will receive this email please send to everyone you know.  For those who will try to make something out of this and assert this message is from any org I am affiliated with PLEASE send this on to whoever.  My disclaimer above speaks for me and should any EXTREMISTS, WACKO, SCUM OF THE EARTH ENVIROS want to talk to me I will be more than happy to call you an EXTREMISTS, WACKO, SCUM OF THE EARTH ENVIRO to your face.


Bob Zales, II


Thank you Steve Southerland, for all you do to protect my rights and to ensure our country remains free!!!!!

We congratulate Rep. Southerland on his reelection, and hope he’ll focus his considerable energies with respect to fisheries on becoming an effective and informed representative of his conservation-minded fishing constituents.

A status quo election? Not for fisheries

Since the moment polls started closing last night, DC types of all political persuasions have been wading obsessively through the Election Day returns. First and foremost, the angst was over whether preferred candidates had won. Beyond that, folks have been madly trying to read the tea leaves on how the political and public policy landscape has been altered. Confession time: I’ve been one of them.

In the coming days I’ll be sharing some of my conclusions with FishHQ readers who may be interested in what the election is likely to mean for fisheries. And a constant theme in those posts will be how significant the implications of this election have already been for the fisheries world — and how much is likely to change in its aftermath.

One popular refrain last night and this morning is that this was a status quo election, and at a superficial level that’s true: President Obama has won reelection; the Senate majority has been retained by the Democrats; and Republicans will continue to control the House. But to suggest a status quo outcome in any deeper sense would be, in my view, very wrong-headed. The reality is, when it comes to many of the most important dynamics that have shaped Washington over the last two years, this is another change election. And when it comes to fisheries specifically, a lot of key chess pieces are about to move.

I’ll be examining those changes in detail in subsequent posts. But here are some quick morning-after takeaways:

  • Although the occupant of the White House hasn’t changed, we’ll see very significant turnover in key executive branch personnel — including, in all likelihood, at the cabinet level (Commerce Secretary) and in agency leadership (NOAA Administrator).
  • Some of the most prominent and influential congressional voices on fisheries will be packing their bags after choosing to retire or suffering electoral defeat. Institutional knowledge on Capitol Hill is being lost, while opportunities to reshape the debate are being created.
  • The transformation of the New England congressional delegation to a one-party enclave is now largely complete. The triumph of Democrats over Republicans in critical House and Senate races will have significant implications for how fisheries politics plays out in this vital region.
  • With all sides focused on avoiding the fiscal cliff, and daunting federal budget realities looming, the resources that enable the information infrastructure upon which our fisheries management system relies are set to come under even greater pressure.

As you absorb the implications of last night’s results, we hope you’ll tune out the cable chatter from time to time, and instead tune in to FishHQ. We’ll strive to bring you the best insight and analysis on what it all means.