A National Research Council report, released today, shows that much still needs to be learned about the impact of commercial fishing trawl and dredge gear on seabed habitat while debunking some commonly held myths about the fishing industry. Commercial fishing industry leaders across the country praised the NRC's Ocean Studies Board panel for doing a thorough job.

"We applaud the efforts of the committee members to produce a fair and comprehensive report," said Rod Moore, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association.

The report details current information and suggests changes for research, data gathering and federal management policies. It also acknowledges that all types of fishing gear have an impact on marine ecosystems. "A complete consideration of the effects of fishing on ecosystems would require evaluation not only of trawl and dredge gear, but also stationary gear (e.g., traps, pots, longlines, gillnets) and other kinds of towed gear (e.g., pelagic trawls) on both target and non?target species," said the report.

"The 18?month study conducted by the NRC shows that we still have much to learn about how minimal or extensive that impact may be," said Moore.

The 12?member committee suggested that fishermen be involved in prospective management changes through "increased participation in research on the effects of fishing on the seafloor and development of alternative gears and practices."

Moore added that "the report also makes clear that the impact of removing fishing gear must be balanced by the social and economic affects of that removal."

The fishing industry of California, Oregon and Washington has already suggested innovative ways of reducing impacts. Two years ago, fishermen and processors convinced fisheries managers to require modifications of trawl gear in some areas to avoid the harvest of certain species listed as overfished by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Fishermen have also been working with NMFS, state scientists, and university researchers throughout the United States to develop innovative net designs to avoid bycatch and excessive ecosystem disturbance in commercial fisheries.

The report also refutes the charge made by some advocacy groups that gear impacts are prevalent throughout the industry. It notes that "bottom trawling in the Mid?Atlantic, Pacific, and North Pacific regions is relatively light, with less than 1 tow per year in many reporting areas." Moore noted that previous studies have shown large areas of the west coast off limits to trawling due to regulations and natural and man?made impediments.

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association, pointed out that the report demonstrates that gear impacts may not be as harmful as some suggest. Recommendations for future research include “determining the relationship between fish production and bottom disturbance, especially for areas that continue to support fish despite chronic impact by fishing gear.”

"The large variety of healthy seafood available to American consumers is harvested by all types of fishing gear," said Moore. "Some can only be obtained using trawl gear. Rather than wasting time on frivolous legislation or litigation, as some advocacy groups and members of Congress have attempted, we should look at what the NRC concluded:  Resolve our ecological and socio?economic goals by getting a better understanding of marine ecosystems and have scientists and the seafood industry work together more effectively."

What the report didn't say, however, raises more questions.

"The underlying public policy question still needs to be addressed: What are the oceans for? To what extent are they to be utilized for producing food or to what extent should they be maintained inviolate?" said Nils E. Stolpe, spokesman for the Garden State Seafood Association "What part of our population would our farmers be able to feed if someone had decided years ago that all of our land had to be maintained in its natural state?"

"In this whole trawling/dredging effect dialogue there's an underlying assumption that anything that departs from the natural condition isn't acceptable but the question, 'What are the oceans for?' hasn't yet been answered. Everything follows from that," Stolpe said.

"What is seldom mentioned in these reports is that the Gulf of Mexico shrimping industry has helped set aside millions of acres as nursery areas. The Tortugas shrimp nursery, established almost 30 years ago covers over 3,000,000 acres where no trawling of any kind is allowed" said Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association.

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Bonnie Brady, Long Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association -
Bob Jones, Southeastern Fisheries Association -
Rod Moore, West Coast Seafood Processors Association -
Nils Stolpe, Garden State Seafood Association –


National Research Council report:
Garden State Seafood Association information on trawl gear effects:
West Coast Seafood Processors Association:
Southeastern Fisheries Association:
Oregon Trawl Commission:
North Carolina Fisheries Association:
Groundfish Forum:
National Fisheries Institute:
Associated Fisheries of Maine:
Long Island Commercial Fishermen’s Association:
MidWater Trawlers Cooperative:
New Bedford Seafood Coalition: