Leigh Habegger poses with jellyfish while spending a day on the water with a fishing crew in Prince William Sound. Photo courtesy of CDFU

Executive director of Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA), Leigh Habegger, visited Cordova this past week to familiarize herself with the region and local fishery issues.

The visit is a part of Habegger’s larger tour through Alaska this summer during which she has been meeting with key fishing industry representatives in various communities. Habegger began her tour in Sitka where she fished alongside salmon trollers. In Cordova she went seining, and will next journey to Kodiak to visit a set net site.

Seafood Harvesters of America is a fishermen-founded nonprofit based in Washington D.C. that advocates for commercial fisheries on a national scale. The organization focuses the majority of its efforts on supporting legislation that benefits fishing businesses, families, and coastal communities. SHA further works on behalf of member organizations within regions. Cordova’s political advocacy organization, Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), is a supporting member within SFH representing the Prince William Sound and Area E fisheries.

In the five years since Habegger has held the position of executive director the organization has set its sights on advancing fisheries technologies, working to adapt to climate change, monitoring the reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act, and working alongside NOAA for science-based management. Habegger says that meeting face-to-face with fishermen around the nation in their home fisheries is the best way to engage their many diverse concerns and opinions.

“It’s good to be out there and see everything happening as you’re conversing,” she said.  “There’s a different dynamic when you’re on the fishermen’s terms.”

Habegger met with various actors in the local seafood scene including CDFU President Ezekiel Brown, CDFU longline co-chair Marc Carell, and executive director of Copper River Prince William Sound Marketing Association (CRPWSMA) Christa Hoover. In speaking with CDFU as a member organization, Habegger says she wanted to connect on how local issues can be met at a federal level. Amongst these relevant issues, she said, is the profitability of American fisheries.


During her time in Alaska, Hebegger says she has observed how low salmon prices can affect fishermen. She says her conversation with CRPWSMA shed light on the value of consumer education and marketing of wild seafood, which she hopes to include in SHA overall efforts to increase profitability. Currently, SHA advocates for fisheries profitability by supporting programs within the USDA that increase seafood processing and consumption within the United States. 

“We need to be thinking about how we can support processors here in the United States to keep seafood processing in America,” Hebegger said.

SHA was also supportive of recent legislation by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R- Alaska, to create a label specifically for wild harvested American seafood. 

Habegger also spoke on how the fisheries of Area E underscore many broader national concerns, such as a changing climate. Changes in ocean temperature and seasonal weather, she said, may affect wild commercial marine species in a variety of ways that result in negative impacts for coastal communities. Habegger listened to observations about changes in the climate and observations about fluctuations in species composition.

“What I’ve heard fishermen describe here follow a pattern that we’re seeing around the country of drastic changes in fishing operations,” she said.

Habegger said SHA is interested to see what climate resiliency work is being done on the ground in their member regions that they may be able to amplify.

In the near future, SHA is monitoring the upcoming Farm Bill legislation, otherwise known as the Agriculture Improvement Act, and the opportunities it may present for fisheries to be included within appropriations and other supportive programs.

“This is the first year that the broader seafood industry is really pushing to be involved,” she said.