Are fisheries overfished or not?

Earlier this year, I wrote a widely published op-ed about the lack of stock assessments in federal offshore fisheries management, the basic scientific tool used to determine sustainable fishing levels.

Of the 469 stocks managed by the eight regional fishery management councils, the status of 161 stocks is unknown for lack of stock assessments. In the South Atlantic, of the 59 species in the snapper-grouper fishery, the stock status is unknown for 76 percent or 45 species. Additionally, the status is unknown for important top-water species like dolphin (mahi) and wahoo.

For stocks with an unknown status, the only way to set an annual catch limit is to use historical landings, which has no real scientific basis, and can unfairly penalize fishermen with artificially low catch limits.

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 by giving commercial fishermen “shares” in fisheries based on catch history, which can be bought and sold like shares on Wall Street. Studies have shown that catch share programs hurt fishing communities by destroying jobs and don’t provide any biological benefit to fisheries.

While more stock assessments are badly needed, a congressionally mandated study by the National Research Council of the effectiveness of fish stock rebuilding plans found that 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.

The NRC study 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.

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

Congress must ensure that NOAA gives funding priority to better science, the collection of better data, and more and better stock assessments. A start would be to redirect catch share funding to these purposes.

Contact your representatives in Congress today and ask them to direct more of NOAA’s funding to fisheries science and data collection and away from programs that actually hurt fishermen and fishing communities like catch shares. Click here for contact information.

Thank you in advance for your efforts!

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 today by clicking here to help us continue our fight for fishermen and fishing communities. 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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State Rep. Goldfinch applauded for stance against offshore no-fishing zones

MURRELLS INLET, SC – The Council for Sustainable Fishing, a regional advocacy group for recreational and commercial fishing interests, Thursday applauded state Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, for his letter to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council opposing additional offshore no-fishing zones.

“We thank Rep. Goldfinch for standing up for fishing interests and the coastal economy and his recognition that there is simply no justification for any additional no-fishing areas in the South Atlantic,” Council for Sustainable Fishing Executive Director Tom Swatzel said. “Rep. Goldfinch understands that fishermen and related businesses have been struggling with difficult catch limits that have produced substantial economic hardships and that the last thing we need right now is to close off productive fishing grounds unnecessarily.”  

“As a state House member representing coastal areas of the Georgetown and Charleston counties, I have great concern about the economic impacts of any additional live bottom areas being closed to fishing, particularly an area as vital and productive as the Georgetown Hole,” Goldfinch wrote in the letter. “As an experienced offshore fisherman, I know first hand about fishing in the Georgetown Hole and how important the area is for commercial and recreational fishermen.“

Click here for the Goldfinch letter.

The SAFMC has proposed eight offshore areas from North Carolina to Key West, totaling about 70 sq. miles, be designated as spawning Special Management Zones that would prohibit bottom fishing through Amendment 36 to its snapper-grouper fishery management plan. The largest of the proposed SMZs at 15.2 sq. miles is the famed Georgetown Hole located 55 miles off Georgetown.

The SMZ plan is not part of any fishery rebuilding plan and not required by federal law for fishery sustainability.

“Not only are the live bottom Special Management Zones in the amendment not required, they are duplicative of the eight existing deep-water Marine Protected Areas in the purpose of protecting spawning snapper and grouper,” Goldfinch said. “I respectfully ask the fishery council to stop any further consideration of live bottom spawning Special Management Zones until the existing Marine Protected Areas have been evaluated as to their effectiveness in protecting spawning snapper and grouper.”

The SAFMC and NOAA approved about 700 sq. miles of no-bottom-fishing Marine Protected Areas that were implemented in 2009 to also provide protection to snapper and grouper species. The SAFMC and NOAA have also designated nearly 24,000 sq. miles of deep-water coral habitat in the South Atlantic areas of particular concern in which bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines.

“One of the especially troubling aspects of the fishery council’s pursuit of these duplicative spawning SMZs in Amendment 36 is that six years after the MPAs have been in place, there has been no systematic monitoring to determine how effective the MPAs have been in protecting snapper and grouper because the council has yet to adopt a system monitoring and evaluation plan,” Goldfinch said. “Until the council and NOAA Fisheries can properly assess spawning activity and other fishery biological information within the existing MPAs, it’s wrong and unfair to fishermen and fishing communities to close more live bottom areas without solid justification.”

This month, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce raised concerns about the proposed closed fishing areas in a letter to the SAFMC.

“We are very wary of the proposal to restrict bottom-fishing in the Special Management Zones along the East Coast,” chamber president Brad Dean said in the letter. “Currently there are large, expansive areas of protected marine areas, including deep-water coral Habitat of Particular Concern, in which fishing is prohibited and/or greatly restricted. Likewise we are not aware of any systematic approach to monitoring the effectiveness of these closed areas, must less expansion of restricted areas.”

“We encourage you to keep in mind the need to balance proactive measures with the needs of small businesses. The local fishing industry is a key part of our tourism industry. Any measures undertaken to enhance the management of our fisheries must not be a threat to the success of those businesses and the visitors they serve,” Dean said.

Click here for the chamber of commerce letter.

Both Goldfinch and Swatzel agree with SAFMC efforts in Amendment 36 to designate experimental artificial reefs off South Carolina as no-fishing SMZs.

“The SC Dept. of Natural Resources has led efforts off our state to build artificial reefs on unproductive sandy bottom, not for fishing, but as havens for snapper and grouper that will build fishery biomass without closing live bottom areas and harming fishermen. I very much support these efforts, as I believe most fishery stakeholders do,” Goldfinch said.

The SAFMC is taking public comments on Amendment 36 through this month and could take final action by the end of the year.

The SAFMC, headquartered in Charleston, SC, is responsible for the conservation and management of federal offshore fish stocks from NC to Key West.

The Council for Sustainable Fishing, based in Murrells Inlet, is a nonprofit organization that advocates optimizing and sustaining fishing opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen in South Atlantic region.

The CFSF website is Sustainablefishing.org.

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Time is running out to oppose closed fishing areas

Time is running out to oppose the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s proposal to close more offshore fishing areas. The deadline for comments is just two weeks away. I urge you to take action today!

Last week, fishermen, the local chamber of commerce, and others at the public hearing in Murrells Inlet were in vocal opposition to Amendment 36, which would close off about 70 sq. miles more of bottom to fishing from North Carolina to Key West.

There are already nearly 700 sq. miles of existing deep-water Marine Protected Areas in which bottom fishing is prohibited and nearly 24,000 sq. miles of existing deep-water coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in which bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines. There is no plan in place to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of these existing closed areas, much less any new areas.

Plus, these proposed closed areas are not part of any fishery rebuilding plan and not required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act for fishery sustainability. This is an entirely optional action on the part of the SAFMC.

Coverage of the Murrells Inlet hearing from the Myrtle Beach Sun News, entitled “Fishermen reeling over proposal to close famed Georgetown Hole to snapper-grouper fishing”:

“The Council for Sustainable Fishing and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce were among the organizations that voiced concerns over additional closed (fishing) areas.

‘We are very wary of the proposal to restrict bottom-fishing in the Special Management Zones along the East Coast,’ chamber president Brad Dean said in the letter. ‘Currently there are large, expansive areas of protected marine areas, including deep-water coral Habitat of Particular Concern, in which fishing is prohibited and/or greatly restricted. Likewise we are not aware of any systematic approach to monitoring the effectiveness of these closed areas, must less expansion of restricted areas.’

…‘Should the fishery council decide to move forward anyway with these SMZs, we ask that they adopt the alternatives with the smallest possible footprint to limit impacts on fishermen and communities,’ said Tom Swatzel, a former SAFMC council member and executive director of the Council for Sustainable Fishing.”

Click here for the article.

A webinar hearing will be held this Tuesday, August 18th at 6 pm. Register by clicking here.

Public hearings will be held in Georgia and Florida next week:

(All 4 to 7 pm)

Monday, August 24:
Georgia DNR Office, 1 Conservation Way, Brunswick, GA 31520

Tuesday, August 25:
Hilton Garden Inn, 189 Midway Avenue, Daytona Beach, FL 32114

Written comments can be emailed to mike.collins@safmc.net (reference Amendment 36 in the subject line), faxed to (843) 769-4520 or mailed to Robert Mahood, Executive Director, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405. The deadline for comments is 5 pm on August 31st.

I urge you to be heard before it’s too late.

Wayne Mershon
President
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 join today by clicking here to help us continue our fight for fishermen and fishing communities. 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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SUN NEWS: Fishermen reeling over proposal to close famed Georgetown Hole to snapper-grouper fishing

“The Council for Sustainable Fishing and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce were among the organizations that voiced concerns over additional closed (fishing) areas.

‘We are very wary of the proposal to restrict bottom-fishing in the Special Management Zones along the East Coast,’ chamber president Brad Dean said in the letter. ‘Currently there are large, expansive areas of protected marine areas, including deep-water coral Habitat of Particular Concern, in which fishing is prohibited and/or greatly restricted. Likewise we are not aware of any systematic approach to monitoring the effectiveness of these closed areas, must less expansion of restricted areas.’

…Wayne Mershon, president of the Council for Sustainable Fishing based in Murrells Inlet, spoke at the public hearing last week. Mershon is a member of the SAFMC's Snapper-Grouper Advisory Panel and proposed an area offshore of the existing Northern S.C. MPA or an expansion of that MPA be considered in lieu of the Georgetown Hole SMZ options.

‘Should the fishery council decide to move forward anyway with these SMZs, we ask that they adopt the alternatives with the smallest possible footprint to limit impacts on fishermen and communities,’ said Tom Swatzel, a former SAFMC council member and executive director of the Council for Sustainable Fishing.”

Click here for the article.

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POST & COURIER | Georgetown Hole plan would ban bottom fishing across 15 square miles

Offshore fishing interests are urged to email comments opposing the closure of the Georgetown Hole and other areas ASAP to mike.collins@safmc.net before it's too late.

“A federal plan is in development to put bottom fishing off limits across 15 square miles of the fabled Georgetown Hole, among eight other fish-spawning bottoms in the Southeast.

…On Monday, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council staff began a final round of public meetings. A final council vote is expected by December. One version or another of the sanctuaries would be put off limits in July 2016. The total area could be as much as nearly 80 square miles. The public can provide input and comment until the end of August.

…The Council for Sustainable Fishing, an advocacy group for seafood business interests in the South Carolina and neighboring states, opposes it, because the sanctuaries would put hundreds more acres off-limits to bottom fishing, ‘despite nearly 700 square miles of existing deep-water Marine Protected Areas in which bottom fishing is prohibited.’

Farther offshore, nearly 24,000 square miles of existing deep-water coral also have bottom fishing restrictions, the council noted on its website. ‘There is no plan in place to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of these existing closed areas, much less any new areas,’ said the posting.”

Click here for the article.

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Be heard on proposed fishery regulations

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is keeping fishermen busy this summer with public comment meetings.

Last month, there was a series of hearings/listening stations on the snapper-grouper Vision Project, which included overwhelmingly opposed measures such as catch shares, electronic monitoring, and more closed fishing areas.

Next week, the SAFMC will start public hearings (close to final action) and conduct scoping (initial stages of development) on four snapper-grouper amendments and will also continue to take comments on the Vision Project.

Public hearings are being held on these amendments:

Amendment 36 would put in place hundreds of square miles of spawning Special Management Zones from North Carolina through east Florida to Key West, in which bottom fishing would be prohibited.

This despite nearly 700 square miles of existing deep-water Marine Protected Areas in which bottom fishing is prohibited, and nearly 24,000 square miles of existing deep-water coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern in which bottom fishing is substantially restricted by prohibitions on anchoring and bottom longlines. There is no plan in place to evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of these existing closed areas, much less any new areas.

Amendment 16 would bring some relief to the November-April commercial black sea bass pot (trap) fishery closure, which has been forced due to NOAA concerns about possible right whale entanglement in pot gear -- this despite there being no documented instance of whales ever being entangled in the gear.

The amendment would allow the use of pot gear November-April in areas outside the areas defined as right whale critical habitat and would require gear modifications such as lighter buoy lines and weak links.

Scoping is being conducted on these amendments:

Amendment 23 includes actions to modify the fishing year start date for the commercial golden tilefish hook and line sector; increase the recreational bag limit for black sea bass; and establish a commercial trip limit for the Jacks Complex.

Amendment 37 would divide hogfish into two stocks: North Carolina-Georgia and East Florida-Key West, establish annual catch limits and commercial and recreational management measures for each stock, and a rebuilding plan for the Florida stock.

Here’s the hearing schedule for next week:

All are 4 to 7 pm.

Monday, August 10:
Amend. 36 -- Hilton Garden Inn, 5265 International Boulevard, N. Charleston, SC 29418

Tuesday, August 11:
Amend. 16 -- Holiday Inn Express, 722 Highway 17, Little River, SC 29566

Wednesday, August 12:
Amend. 36 -- Murrells Inlet Community Center, 4462 Murrells Inlet Road, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
Amend. 16 -- Comfort Suites, 130 Workshop Lane, Jacksonville, NC 28546

Thursday, August 13:
Amend. 36 -- N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, 5285 Highway 70 West, Morehead City, NC 28557

On Monday, August 10th at 6 pm a webinar will be held to scope Amendments 23 and 37.

Click here for the complete hearing schedule, webinar registration, and amendment details.

Written comments can be emailed to mike.collins@safmc.net (reference the name of the amendment in the subject line), faxed to (843) 769-4520 or mailed to Robert Mahood, Executive Director, SAFMC, 4055 Faber Place Drive, Suite 201, N. Charleston, SC 29405.

I urge you to be heard on these important actions.

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Council for Sustainable Fishing

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WPDE-TV | Local fishermen frustrated with proposed regulations

"’We want some controversial items that are opposed by nearly all fishermen removed, like catch shares, which is an effort to privatize the fishery, electronic monitoring of a vessel, and more closed fishing areas,’ said Tom Swatzel, a council member with Sustainable Fishing. ‘We just don't need those at this time.’

The Vision Project which was initially launched last year by SAFMC was blasted by local fishermen Monday night.

‘How much consideration was put in about what we the fishermen had to say at those meetings, because it seems like it was very little,’ said one local fishermen to the representatives with SAFMC, who were conferenced in for the public hearing.

Local fishermen said the current proposed regulations would put them out of business and make the fishing economy obsolete on the Grand Strand.”

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SAFMC Vision Project hearings in SC and GA next week

A reminder of the important public hearings next week in South Carolina and Georgia on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s snapper-grouper Vision Project.

Here’s the public hearing/listening station schedule for next week in South Carolina: (All are at 6 pm)

Monday, July 20:
Murrells Inlet Community Center, 4450 Murrells Inlet Rd., Murrells Inlet, SC 29576

Tuesday, July 21:
Mt. Pleasant Waterworks, 1619 Rifle Range Rd., Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464

Here’s the schedule for Georgia: (All are at 6 pm)

Wednesday, July 22:
Sapelo Saltwater Fishing Club, 3575 Old Shellman Bluff Rd. NE, Shellman Bluff, GA 31331

Thursday, July 23:
Georgia DNR Office, 1 Conservation Way, Brunswick, GA 31520

On July 28th, hearings will begin in North Carolina.

This long-term snapper-grouper management plan, which was promised by the SAFMC to be “stakeholder-driven,” contains measures that are overwhelmingly opposed by stakeholders: catch share programs for both commercial and for-hire fishermen that will privatize the fishery, expensive and burdensome vessel electronic monitoring for all fishermen, and more closed fishing areas.

I urge you to attend the public hearing/listening station in your area and speak out against the Vision plan. Bring other stakeholders with you. If you can’t attend, there are webinars associated with each hearing. Click here for a list of the hearing locations for all states and webinar registration.

Also, help fight this radical plan by:

Be heard on this very important plan. Thank you in advance for your help on this important issue!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Sustainablefishing.org

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. Please join today by clicking here to help us continue to get the word out to fishermen and others. 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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Plan to privatize snapper-grouper fishery ownership off southeastern states blasted by fishing advocacy group

MURRELLS INLET, SC – A proposed plan by federal fishery managers to privatize ownership of the snapper-grouper fishery from North Carolina to Key West, Florida by taking a fishermen’s historical landings and converting them into “catch shares” of the fishery that can be bought and sold like a commodity on Wall Street is being blasted by an advocacy group for commercial and recreational fishermen.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, which is responsible for the management of federal fisheries in the Atlantic off the southeastern states, has proposed the controversial programs for commercial and charter boats in its long-range management plan for the snapper-grouper fishery called the Vision Project. Public hearings on the plan start this week.

“Studies have shown that catch share programs provide no biological benefit to fisheries and hurt fishing communities by destroying jobs. These programs tend to benefit large corporate fleets that can buy up shares and hurt small fishermen who cannot,” Council for Sustainable Fishing Executive Director Tom Swatzel said. “Fishermen from all sectors have made it very clear to the SAFMC that they overwhelmingly oppose private ownership of the fishery. The fishery council needs to listen to these fishermen as promised.”

The SAFMC launched the Vision Project last year by conducting 26 “port meetings” throughout the region seeking fishery stakeholder input into the project, stating that the project would be “stakeholder-driven.”

The SAFMC has acknowledged the meetings produced overwhelming opposition to catch shares, but decided to include them in the plan any way.

Swatzel, a former SAFMC member, says he’s disappointed at the fishery council’s unwillingness to listen to fishermen’s opposition to catch shares, which has been longstanding.

“Prior SAFMC efforts in 2011 to implement catch shares for the snapper-grouper fishery were met with overwhelming opposition and had to be withdrawn, so the fishery council should know better. They need to honor their promise of a stakeholder-driven plan and stop efforts to privatize the fishery. The SAFMC’s credibility is at stake,” Swatzel said. “This plan is supposed to be driven by fishery stakeholders, not special interest groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, which has spent millions lobbying for catch shares.”

Swatzel says the SAFMC has purposely not used the controversial phrase “catch shares” in the plan, but instead has used less understood terminology for catch shares such as “sector share management system,” “individual quota management system,” “individual quota programs,” “sector share programs/cooperatives,” “individual quotas,” and “allocations by permit.”

“It’s very troubling the SAFMC would resort to using code-speak for catch shares instead of being up front with fishermen about the fact that catch share programs are indeed in the plan,” Swatzel said.

Catch share programs in New England and California have been called “failures” in media reports. According to the San Luis Obispo, CA Tribune, the director of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization said “‘The catch share system is probably the worst thing that ever happened to the fishing industry.’”

Studies and reports by the Lenfest Ocean Program, Center for Investigative Reporting, and Food and Water Watch say that catch share programs provide no biological benefit to fisheries.

“It would be one thing if catch shares improved fishery sustainability, but they don’t. The net effect of catch shares is to reallocate fish from small fishermen to large, reducing jobs and in many cases the availability of fresh catch in local markets,” Swatzel said. “Catch share programs for charter boats will reduce availability, hurting fishing destinations.”

Swatzel says other measures in the plan such as requiring electronic tracking devices for all fishing boats and more closed fishing areas are widely opposed by fishermen and should be dropped by the SAFMC.

The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a nonprofit organization that advocates optimizing and sustaining fishing opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen in South Atlantic region.

The CFSF website is Sustainablefishing.org.

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SAFMC Vision Project hearings start on July 13th

Important public hearings start next week in Florida on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s snapper-grouper Vision Project.

This long-term snapper-grouper management plan, which was promised by the SAFMC to be “stakeholder-driven,” contains measures that are overwhelmingly opposed by stakeholders: catch share programs for both commercial and for-hire fishermen that will privatize the fishery, expensive and burdensome vessel electronic monitoring for all fishermen, and more closed fishing areas.

It’s turned into a radical plan driven by the SAFMC and special interest groups that must be stopped.

Here’s the public hearing/listening station schedule for next week in Florida:

All start at 6 pm.

Monday, July 13th:
Hampton Inn & Suites, 95 Vilano Rd., St. Augustine, FL 32084

Tuesday, July 14th:
Florida FWC Field Office, 1-A Max Brewer Memorial Parkway, Titusville, FL, 32796

Wednesday, July 15th:
City of Stuart Offices, 121 SW Flagler Ave., Stuart, FL 34994

Thursday, July 16th:
Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Hwy, 1st Floor, Marathon, FL 33050

I urge you to attend the public hearing/listening station in your area and speak out against the Vision plan. Bring other stakeholders with you. If you can’t attend, there are webinars associated with each hearing. Click here for a list of the hearing locations for all states and webinar registration.

Also, help fight this radical plan by:

  1. Emailing your comments opposing the plan to: amber.vonharten@safmc.net. Ask other fishermen, dealers, wholesalers and consumers to send in comments.
  2. Personally contacting the SAFMC members from your state that represent you and tell them why you oppose the Vision plan. Click here for the contact information.
  3. Posting this link on your Facebook page to help spread the word about the Vision plan and the importance of speaking out against the plan: www.sustainablefishing.org/help_stop_catch_shares_in_the_south_atlantic

Be heard on this very important plan. Thank you in advance for your help on this important issue!

Tom Swatzel
Executive Director
Sustainablefishing.org

P.S. The Council for Sustainable Fishing is a non-profit advocacy group that relies on membership dues to operate. Please consider sending joining to help us continue to get the word out to fishermen and others. Checks can be mailed to P.O. Box 2398, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576 or join online at 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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