Not listening to fishermen

Do you think fishery managers listen to fishermen?

After last week’s South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting you have to wonder.

A proposal to limit the number of charter and head boats that could fish in the South Atlantic was met with overwhelming opposition by fishermen.

There were 169 written comments against the proposal and just 3 for it.

Click here to see the comments.

Yet, the SAFMC didn’t listen to fishermen and kill the proposal. Instead it voted 9 to 3 to develop a “white paper” to continue to explore charter and head boat limited entry options for the snapper-grouper fishery.

Since the 2007 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which mandated very conservative Annual Catch Limits for all fisheries, “for-hire” fishing effort in the South Atlantic has plunged by nearly 40 percent from a peak of 306,441 angler trips in 2007 to 192,781 trips in 2015.

Click here to see the graph.

Additionally, this year there were only six more snapper-grouper for-hire permits issued from North Carolina through east Florida to Key West, than in 2009.

It would be one thing if for-hire limited entry was about fishery sustainability, but it’s not.

This seems to be more and more about picking winners and losers in the for-hire fishery that will set up a “stock market” for permits and not about listening to the overwhelming opposition from fishermen.

This is exactly what happened in the Gulf of Mexico with for-hire limited entry. Click here to read an email from the National Association of Charterboat Operators to the SAFMC that describes the limited entry disaster in the Gulf.

As this issue moves forward, we’ll continue to fight limited entry and hope that the SAFMC starts listening to fishermen.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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Don't bite on risky lure of 'catch shares'

By Wayne Mershon

A wolf in sheep’s clothing: something that seems to be good, but is actually not good at all.

I can’t think of a more appropriate saying to use than “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” to describe the reality of what the Seafood Harvesters of America want to do with our offshore fisheries.

The Post & Courier recently published an article and editorial that bought into the sheep’s clothing side. Year-round fishing and better fisheries data are touted.

Who could be against that?

But there’s a wolf: privatization of our fisheries through a scheme called “catch shares,” where fishermen and corporations are actually given ownership of our fisheries with shares that can be bought or sold like stock on Wall Street.

That’s the real reason for the Seafood Harvesters of America’s existence. They’re working hard to ensure commercial fishermen own our fisheries, and in this case it’s our snapper and grouper, starting with a pilot program that could be considered by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries next year.

The term “catch shares” does not appear in the article or editorial, but the innocuous sounding synonym “individual quotas” does. The Seafood Harvesters have been well coached by their public relations team to not use “catch shares” because it will draw intense fire from most commercial and recreational fishermen.

Last year, when the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council sought input on its long-range management plan for the snapper-grouper fishery, 97 percent of the responding stakeholders said they opposed catch shares.

It’s no wonder.

Studies by the Lenfest Ocean Program, Food and Water Watch and others have shown that catch share programs provide no biological benefit or enhanced sustainability to fisheries at all. Year-round fisheries are rarely achieved. What catch shares do is destroy jobs and hurt fishing communities.

With catch shares, the initial ownership allocation in a fishery, based on catch history, leaves many fishermen without enough shares to continue fishing, so they have no choice but to buy more shares or rent them from those that got the most, usually with borrowed money.

The result is far less fishermen.

A 2013 report from the Center for Investigative Reporting estimated that nationally more than 3,700 vessels were no longer active in fishing areas that operated under catch shares, accounting for as many as 18,000 lost jobs.

Perhaps there is no greater example of the economic devastation of catch shares than the commercial red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. An investigative report this year by AL.com says that catch shares have turned red snapper fishermen into two classes: “sea lords“ and “serfs.”

From the report: “just 55 people own the right to catch fully 77 percent of all the snapper in the Gulf, a haul worth $18 million annually…the remaining 25 percent of the harvest, a little over 1 million pounds, is split among about 500 people, which means there are a lot of very small shares. And a lot of fishermen who must buy the right to fish.” According to the report, the sea lords have earned about $60 million since 2007 from serfs buying the right to fish for red snapper.

As innocuous as they want to make it sound, make no mistake, the Seafood Harvesters represent the sea lords and are working hard to privatize ownership of our fisheries to the detriment of fishing jobs and fishing communities.

Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Mershon is president of the Council for Sustainable Fishing, a non-profit advocacy group for commercial and recreational fishing based in Murrells Inlet.

Click here for the op-ed as published in the Charleston Post & Courier.

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NEW YORK POST: How the privatization of our oceans is sinking fishermen

An important op-ed about the exploitation of fishermen by catch share schemes that make fishermen have to pay “feudal landlords” for the right to fish.

By Larry Getlen

The town of St. George, off the Bering Sea near Alaska, was long home to some of the most robust pollock fishing in the country. But due to a fishing rights management scheme called “catch shares,” the town has no rights to fish its own waters and regularly watches their former industry literally pass them by.

“Every year, the industry takes about $2 billion in gains out of this fish resource on the Bering Sea,” St. George Mayor Pat Pletnikoff tells Lee van der Voo in “The Fish Market.” “Not one plug nickel sticks to St. George.”

Catch shares work by dividing our oceans just like any other physical property, creating theoretical property lines. Then the rights to fish different species in various sections are awarded to applicants — which could be individuals or companies — based on how much fish they catch over a certain period of time. These rights are given by eight fishery councils throughout the country, which also place restrictions on how much of any species can be fished.

While catch shares are credited with greater species management — the US government found in 2007 that of 230 species of fish, 92 were going quickly extinct due to overfishing — the catch-shares program has virtually privatized our oceans, destroying the livelihoods of many lifelong fishermen and other small businesses in the process.

While any system has winners and losers, catch shares allow for one major exploitation: Those who own the rights to fish a certain area can rent or sell them like feudal landlords, in perpetuity. That means fishermen, who used to freely fish certain areas, now have to rent those same areas from absentee landlords.

When the catch shares were implemented, arguing over the issue in the industry was fierce.

“Whether you were for it or against it, most people thought it was insanity that the government wanted to give away the fish in the ocean,” van der Voo writes. “It was the equivalent of handing the national forests over to the timber companies.”

Life will become ever harder for fishermen and fishing towns.
The bizarre setup means owners of fishing boats have become the equivalent of Uber drivers for share owners who take anywhere from 50 percent to 75 percent of the profit.

Owners of less than 20 percent of a boat are required to be aboard any vessel catching their fish, but are not required to fish. This has led to boat owners offering amenities such as “big screen and satellite TVs, massive DVD collections, quality grub and staterooms” to attract share owners aboard to relax while the owner and his crew do the back-breaking work of fishing.

Van der Voo shares the story of The Viking Spirit, a 57-foot steel boat where the workers are longline fishing for sablefish. The fishermen aboard the Spirit are hired hands who do the hard work of catching the fish, many of their hands “clamped closed and in pain” from the heavy silver hooks they use.

But while the workers break their bodies — including Captain Vern Crane, who owns the boat and still owes about a third of the $650,000 he paid for it — Bob Baldwin sleeps soundly in a stateroom, van der Voo writes. Baldwin, a 70-year-old fisherman, negotiated with Crane to take 65 percent of the catch’s profits. (Due to having to compete with low-balling fishermen, some in Crane’s position give away as much as 75 percent.) But there is no requirement for Baldwin to work — in a sense, he’s on the boat as a landlord, and the job is “a sharecropper’s gig on a rough sea.”

While catch shares were supposed to solve the problem of fish species going extinct, it often fails in that area. Fishing for one species can harm another, as in the example of corporate-owned trawlers that hunt for pollock and groundfish but kill halibut in their travels.

This catch-shares program emerged from efforts to save the grouper from overfishing. In 2007, “individual fishing quotas” were instituted. “It meant privatizing the rights to catch grouper in the Gulf of Mexico. Regulators would cap the number of fish that could be caught, but the right to fish then would be doled out, like property, to the people that had historically fished them.”

Van der Voo points out there are fairer ways to save the fish. Oregon, for example, has a system for catching albacore where fisherman pay a fee and sell their catch locally without anyone snatching up rights, which is working economically and environmentally.

But for most of the country, the system mostly stands as is, meaning life will become ever harder for fishermen and fishing towns.

“I never thought there was anything wrong with a family-owned farm,” said Pletnikoff. “There was a certain amount of pride. Fisheries were always that way. They were a mom-and-pop operation. Every child in the family became a fisherman and loved it. Nowadays it is nothing like that. It is Monsanto on the ocean.”

Click here for the op-ed.

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Better science and data, not catch shares

With the exception of three mini-seasons (2012-2014) the red snapper fishery in the South Atlantic has been effectively closed for over six years.

By most accounts from fishermen, red snapper are very plentiful – they are routinely encountered while fishermen target other species and divers report large schools.

Yet, the stock assessment presented to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in June says that red snapper are still overfished and that overfishing is still occurring. This despite a lot of uncertainty about the data used in the assessment.

Give the SAFMC credit for not accepting the assessment and asking its Scientific and Statistical Committee to reexamine the assessment and stock status determination this fall.

The ongoing saga of the red snapper fishery highlights the fact that stock assessments can be flawed because of the lack of good biological and historical abundance information. In other words, much better science and data on our fisheries is needed.

A congressionally mandated study by the National Research Council found that “data from the most recent stock assessments indicate 20 of the 55 stocks analyzed were not actually overfished at the time they were placed in rebuilding plans...”

The study points out that its results cut both ways: while a significant number of stock assessments underestimated stock size, some assessments may overestimate stock size, such that “some stocks classified as healthy” are actually overfished.

Instead of devoting adequate financial resources into stock assessments, NOAA has spent about $160 million over the last six years pushing its National Catch Share Policy in an effort to privatize fisheries. Studies have shown that catch share programs hurt fishing communities by destroying jobs and don’t provide any biological benefit to fisheries.

For our fisheries to be properly managed, there must be a focus on better science and data -- not on catch shares -- which equates to more accurate assessments of whether fish stocks are overfished or not. This is the very heart of successful fisheries management.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. Please help us continue our fight for fishermen and fishing communities by clicking here and joining today. Thank You!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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Public hearings and a new board member

Starting next week on August 1st, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will begin public hearings and scoping on proposed fishery management changes for cobia, mutton snapper, dolphin and yellowtail snapper.

Here’s a summary of what’s being proposed:

Cobia: Reduce the bag limit from 2 fish to 1 fish per person/day, establish a vessel limit of 3 fish per vessel/day, and increase the current minimum size limit from 33” to 36”.

Mutton snapper: Define the spawning months, reduce the 10 fish per person/day bag limit to 3 fish per person/day within the aggregate snapper bag limit year round, increase the minimum size limit from 16” to 18”, and establish a commercial trip limit of 300 pounds during the “regular season” and a 3 fish per person/day limit during the designated spawning season.

Dolphin and yellowtail snapper: Options for ways to shift allocations for dolphin and yellowtail snapper between commercial and recreational sectors to help ensure longer fishing seasons, including temporary shifts in allocation on an “as needed” basis, permanent changes to allocation, or removing sector allocations and managing the stocks under single annual catch limits.

Have your voice heard on these important proposed management changes. Click here for the hearing and scoping schedule and detailed information about the proposals.

I want to welcome Denny Springs aboard as our newest board member. Denny was elected at our recent annual meeting. He owns Harrelson’s Seafood Market in Murrells Inlet, SC and is a life long resident of the area. My congratulations and thanks to Denny for his election and willingness to provide fishing industry leadership.

You can also help by joining our effort to optimize and sustain fishing for commercial and recreational fishermen. Please join the Council for Sustainable Fishing at the highest level you can afford today by clicking here.

If you’re already a member, please consider a higher membership level.

We’re a nonprofit group that relies on memberships to operate. Please help today!

Thank you in advance for your support!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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Two classes of fishermen: "Kings" and "Serfs"

When you hear of fishermen being divided by the government into two classes -- “kings” and “serfs” -- you would think it would be from medieval times or some scheme hatched under a third-world dictatorship.

But no, this is happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now with the commercial red snapper catch share program as documented by an investigative report by AL.com published this week.

The report states that the catch share program “has turned dozens of Gulf of Mexico fishermen into the lords of the sea — able to earn millions annually without even going fishing — and transformed dozens more into modern-day serfs who must pay the lords for the right to harvest red snapper…roughly $60 million has been earned since 2007 by this small number of fishermen whose boats never left port. That money was collected from the labor of fishermen who have no choice but to hand over more than half of the price that their catch brings at the dock.”

According to the report, “just 55 people own the right to catch fully 77 percent of all the snapper in the Gulf, a haul worth $18 million annually…the remaining 25 percent of the harvest, a little over 1 million pounds, is split among about 500 people, which means there are a lot of very small shares. And a lot of fishermen who must buy the right to fish.”

Even former Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Chairman Bob Shipp, who was chairman when the catch share program was approved, has had second thoughts, stating to AL.com, “…nobody on the council realized the scale of what was going on. I had no idea it was as bad as it is."

The scary part is that the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is just a few votes away from forcing catch shares on commercial snapper-grouper fishermen and creating more “kings” and “serfs.”

Last October, after 97 percent of snapper-grouper fishery stakeholders said they oppose any form of catch shares, a vote to remove catch share programs from the long-range fishery “Vision” plan barely passed on a 7 to 5 vote.

This even after the SAFMC had promised the Vision plan would be “stakeholder-driven.” “Voluntary” catch shares remain in the plan.

Our thanks to the hundreds of fishery stakeholders that responded to our mailings and let the SAFMC know just how much they oppose job killing catch shares.

However, we must remain ever vigilant to the threat. It’s clear a significant number of SAFMC members support imposing catch shares no matter what fishery stakeholders want.

Please help us in our efforts to fight catch shares and other unnecessary fishery management measures that have no bearing on fishery sustainability by clicking here today and joining the Council for Sustainable Fishing.

We’re a nonprofit group that relies on memberships to operate. Please help today!

Thank you in advance for your support!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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Recompression devices reduce dead "floaters"

Barotrauma can prevent the successful catch and release of deep-water snapper-grouper species in the South Atlantic. This is where gas in the swim bladder can over-expand when fish are brought quickly to the surface, resulting in serious injury and likely death to the fish, making them a “floater” if released in this condition.

There is nothing worse than landing a nice fish and being unable to release it alive due to barotrauma. These dead discards, as they are referred to by fishery managers, have to be factored into annual catch limit estimates, so reducing these discards is very important.

Venting the gas from the body cavity of the fish with a needle-like venting tool is one way to improve survivability, but venting must be done properly or it can further harm the fish.

Recompression devices, which take the fish back down to the bottom for release, show more promise in reducing dead discards from barotrauma.

This NOAA video shows how development of recompression devices in the Pacific can successfully address the barotrauma issue in deep-water fisheries, in some cases resulting in an 80 to 85 percent survivability rate from what was virtually a zero chance:

Alaska is now requiring use of these devices on charterboats fishing in deep water.

Last year, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Snapper-Grouper Advisory Panel recommended that the council consider requiring these devices to reduce dead discards for both the commercial and recreational sectors.

We have joined the Advisory Panel in asking the SAFMC to consider requiring recompression devices in the snapper-grouper fishery.

It’s our hope that these devices are put to use soon in the South Atlantic to help end dead discards.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The CFSF is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. We need your financial support to continue an effective advocacy campaign for fishing interests! Please join today by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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So much for honoring promises

Last week, I attended the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Visioning Workshop in Charleston, SC where the council decided what to include in the long-range management plan for the snapper-grouper fishery – a plan the council promised would be “stakeholder-driven.”

You may recall that the SAFMC conducted 26 port meetings last year and a series of public hearings this summer seeking input on the Vision plan.

The results were crystal clear: snapper-grouper stakeholders do not support job-killing catch share programs, expensive electronic vessel monitoring, and more no-fishing zones as ways to manage the fishery.

According to the stakeholder comments the SAFMC receive this summer:

97% oppose catch shares
94% oppose electronic vessel monitoring
90% oppose more closed fishing areas

So it would seem a SAFMC decision to honor its promise of a stakeholder-driven Vision plan by removing these overwhelmingly opposed measures would be easy.

It was not.

In a meeting that was not recorded for the public record, nor broadcast via webinar, a vote to remove catch share programs from the Vision plan barely passed on a 7 to 5 vote.

After 97 percent of fishery stakeholders opposed any form of catch shares, SAFMC members Jack Cox (NC), Chris Conklin (SC), Charlie Phillips (GA), Zack Bowen (GA), and the designee for Roy Crabtree (NOAA) all voted to ignore stakeholders and keep catch shares in the plan.

So much for honoring promises.

Even though mandatory catch share programs were removed from the Vision plan, the SAFMC supporters of catch shares managed to get a possible voluntary catch share program included.

This effort to privatize the snapper-grouper fishery is led by well-funded special interest groups. It’s not about fishery sustainability, because there is no biological benefit to catch shares. It’s about who will control the fishery and make the most money.

The SAFMC did remove from the plan electronic vessel monitoring and more MPAs and SMZs (excluding the spawning SMZs currently under consideration in Amendment 36 or artificial reef SMZs).

I’m convinced that only through the efforts of committed fishery stakeholders like you, were we able to succeed in getting the majority of the SAFMC to listen to stakeholders and for the most part act accordingly.

Almost 70 percent of the written comments received by the SAFMC on the Vision plan were from comment cards furnished by the Council for Sustainable Fishing to all snapper-grouper permit holders and dealers and others. I’m convinced we also played a big role in public hearing turnout.

The bottom line is that it takes a lot of financial resources to print and mail thousands of comment cards and return envelopes, travel to meetings, maintain a website, and lobby, among others.

On a relatively small budget, we’ve been effective in competing against special interest groups who have spent millions of dollars trying to privatize fisheries.

But to continue to be an effective voice for commercial and recreational fishing interests we need your financial help now. Please join the CFSF today at the highest level you can afford by clicking here.

If you’re already a member, please consider a higher membership level. We really need your help.

Thank you in advance for your support!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

P.S. The CFSF is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues and to operate. We need your financial support today to continue an effective advocacy campaign for fishing interests! Please join today by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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Important fishery council actions last week

Last week, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council at its meeting in Hilton Head, SC disappointingly moved forward with more no-fishing zones and effectively deferred action on the snapper-grouper Vision Project until next month.

The fishery council approved the following no-fishing spawning Special Management Zones as the preferred alternatives in proposed Snapper-Grouper Amendment 36:

  • North Carolina: South Cape Lookout – 5 sq. miles
  • South Carolina: Devil’s Hole/Georgetown Hole – 3.1 sq. miles
  • Georgia: No sites
  • Florida: Warsaw Hole – 1 sq. mile

While it’s a significant accomplishment to have the total amount of proposed closed areas reduced from 70 sq. miles to about 9 sq. miles, there is still no justification for the action, which will unnecessarily hurt fishermen and fishing communities.

These SMZs are not a part of any fishery rebuilding plan required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act and replicate the purpose of the eight existing deep-water Marine Protected Areas (700 sq. miles) in protecting spawning snapper and grouper.

The existing MPAs have been in place for six years without a plan to evaluate their effectiveness in protecting spawning snapper-grouper. Additional closed areas cannot be justified until the SAFMC adopts such a plan and NOAA does an evaluation.

The fishery council and NOAA approved nearly 24,000 sq. miles of deep-water Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in which bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines, providing even more protections for spawning snapper-grouper.

Additionally, the fishery council approved a four-month grouper spawning season closure for all sectors that has been in effect for six years.

The SAFMC will continue to consider Amendment 36 at its December meeting, with final council action likely next March.

It was also a disappointment that the SAFMC did not remove job-killing catch shares, more closed fishing areas, and expensive and intrusive electronic vessel monitoring from the Vision Project, the long-term management strategy for snapper-grouper, particularly after the overwhelming opposition from stakeholders to these measures.

The SAFMC has promised the Vision Project would be “stakeholder-driven.”

According the stakeholder comments received by the SAFMC:

  • 97% oppose catch shares
  • 90% oppose use of closed fishing areas
  • 94% oppose use of electronic vessel monitoring

We’ll be at the special October SAFMC Vision Project meeting in Charleston, SC to urge the council to honor its promise of letting fishery stakeholders drive the direction of the project.

Thanks for your efforts to help on these important issues!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. We need your financial support to continue an effective advocacy campaign for fishing interests! Please join today by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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Crystal clear on the Vision Project

This week, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council released the stakeholder comments it has received on the snapper-grouper Vision Project, a strategic plan that will have serious consequences for all snapper-grouper fishermen, dealers, wholesalers, and consumers.

The results are crystal clear: snapper-grouper stakeholders do not support job-killing catch share programs, expensive electronic vessel monitoring, and more no-fishing zones as ways to manage the fishery.

According to the stakeholder comments:

  • 97% oppose catch shares
  • 90% oppose use of closed fishing areas
  • 94% oppose use of electronic vessel monitoring

Click here for a summary of the comments.

My sincere thanks to all the fishery stakeholders who took the time to submit comments.

As you are aware, the SAFMC promised the Vision Project would be stakeholder-driven,” so the big question as the SAFMC meets on Monday in Hilton Head, SC to consider the direction of the Vision Project is whether the fishery council will honor its promise or not.

It’s troubling that catch shares, electronic monitoring, and more no-fishing zones even made it this far in the Vision Project. The SAFMC conducted 26 “port meetings” last year that were supposed to seek stakeholder input into the project. These meetings produced overwhelming input from stakeholders, like you, that these management measures are vehemently opposed, and should not be in the project plan.

Plus, catch shares, electronic vessel monitoring, and more no-fishing zones are not required to maintain a sustainable snapper-grouper fishery.

Having a “vision” or long-term strategic plan for the management of the snapper-grouper fishery is a good idea, but the plan must be driven by stakeholders as promised, not special interest groups.

The SAFMC’s credibility is clearly on the line with the Vision Project. We can only hope that the fishery council next week honors its promise to fishery stakeholders.

Again, thanks for your efforts!

Wayne Mershon
President

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit fishing advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. We need your financial support to continue an effective advocacy campaign for fishing interests! Please join today by clicking here. Thank you!

Contributions or gifts to the Council for Sustainable Fishing are not tax deductible as charitable contributions. However, they may be tax deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

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