WASHINGTON (CN) – Allegations of bad science and lobbying by overzealous environmentalists dominated talks on marine sanctuary and monument designations during a congressional hearing Wednesday.
The House Committee on Natural Resources met to unpack the pros and cons of such designations with a panel of industry insiders and their supporters called to testify.
Among those who testified were Brian Hallman, executive director of the American Tunaboat Association, and Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.
Hallman offered a robust defense of watermen and the fishing industry and was quick to remind representatives that tuna profits reel in a half billion dollars annually and serves as a major boon for the U.S. economy.
According to Hallman, his organization represents all U.S. flagged fishing vessels in the Pacific Ocean and trawls the waters there pursuant to three separate treaties.
Hallman reassured the committee that the treaties and legal protections for sea and wildlife are enough to satisfy the complaints of any organization that may see their industry as harmful.
“Limiting fishing through a marine monument designation makes no sense whatsoever,” Hallman said. “It is actually harmful. It is detrimental to maintaining sustainable fisheries … fishing prohibition in these unilateral monument declarations are not based on established, accepted science.”
In fact, Hallman said, there are already established procedures and existing systems implemented by “the best fishery scientists in the world.”
“Why should these scientific processes be bypassed?” Hallman asked.
Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, doubled down on Hallman’s position. Brusquely telling the panel and fellow committee members that he believes sanctuary designations are merely “an attempt to control sea beds without consultation of the people directly affected.”
“No one talked to the states or the people in those areas, [marine monument designations were] done by interest groups who said ‘No more of anything!’ as long as it suits our goal, which is to have nothing: no commercial fishing and no oil exploration,” Young said.
Launching a tirade against the purported abuses of the executive branch, Young demanded the committee to “stop transferring power around.”
“Nothing can be done without the OK of the Congress. We have lost our role of leading this nation and allowed the executive branch to do it,” he added. “People say these monuments are a way to save the beach or something, but it’s not for that.”
Hallman was quick to support Young’s assertion and to that point, Young asked the association president if he believed the overall intent of marine conservationists and other green advocates was to “shut down your industry and turn our oceans into a limited aquarium?”
“You could project that out, because their recommendations are not based on science,” Hallman said.
Young then said that most of the studies, whether conducted under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or others “come from universities who have no stake in this,” referring to the profitability of the fish industry.
“We ought to look at their finances and see where the money for these studies comes from,” Young said. “And make this about consultations with the people who live in these places.”
Dr. John Bruno, a biology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, politely told the committee that portions of Hallman’s testimony were incorrect, and that monument designations are not selected arbitrarily or punitively.
“There is good science here. These are not randomly selected areas. These are the most pristine locations we have left on the planet,” Bruno said.
According to a 2016 study from the University of British Columbia, protections of such locations encompass only a minute part of ocean protections overall: only four percent of the world’s oceans have some sort of marine sanctuary or protection status, the study determined.
Bruno testified that statistically, sanctuary implementation tends to generate a healthier fish stock overall.
Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat, emphatically agreed.
Citing a previous hearing where a charter fishing captain, Bowser Smith, told Congress that the mere six percent of reef which had been assigned as a sanctuary amid the Florida Key’s Biscayne Bay National Park, upped profitability for tourism, commercial fishing and even recreational fishing enjoyment as well.
Calling it a no-brainer, Bruno said, “Any fisherman knows you fish right on the edge of a marine park because you find more fish. Whether its Florida or anywhere else, that’s also where the fish get big.”
Chett Chiasson saw the protections differently however. Also aligning himself with Republican members of the committee who believe access to water and its bounties should be left to the states and not to organizations like NOAA or any other, for that matter.
Ranking Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona pushed back against Chiasson and Hallman. Telling them that reports from the fishery owners themselves say that unchecked large commercial fisheries, like those that belong to the American Tunaboat Association, have actually driven down business for smaller scale operations. Their massive haul of fish, even outside protected waters, has forced some canneries to close.
Regarding energy resources, Grijalva made the point that the argument over monument and sanctuary designations is a multi-faceted one that will require compromise between conservationists and commercial energy and fishing industries.
“Is it less than reasonable to protect 1/10th of 1 percent of these waters in the Gulf [of Mexico] from oil drilling?” Grijalva asked.
Chiasson responded, “In order to establish energy independence, we need to have everything open.”