‘Magnuson-Stevens Act’ Articles
Just when you think federal fisheries management can’t get any more confusing, NOAA Fisheries pops out a solution to a problem that is truly baffling, especially when viewed against recent decisions to dramatically limit recreational catch in other regions. Last week, NOAA announced that fishermen will be allowed to catch up to 6,700 metric tons of Gulf of Maine cod in 2012. The statement from NOAA read:
NOAA and the New England Fishery Management Council, which includes state officials and fishermen, worked with the fishing industry to identify flexibility within federal fisheries law that could both protect cod and provide sustained fishing opportunities. As a result, the quota for 2012 will be set at 6,700 metric tons, which is within the range recommended by the New England Fishery Management Council. Without this collaborative approach, the catch limit for this fishing year would have been set below 1,500 metric tons. This is the end result of collaborative work with the fishing industry to find a solution that prevented a much larger cut to the allowable catch for the 2012 fishing year.
The condensed version of the back story to this amazing turn of events includes an assessment in 2006 that showed Gulf of Maine cod were on the path to recovery, and everyone was happy. In 2011, a new assessment using new techniques showed quite the opposite, shocking everyone involved in the fishery. Based on the 2011 assessment, which was peer reviewed and accepted, the stock was and is in a serious decline. The fishery was looking at massive cuts in harvest, but with NOAA’s announcement last week, it appears that some mysterious “flexibility within federal fisheries law that could both protect cod and provide sustained fishing opportunities” allowed the New England Council to “salvage” a harvest for 2012 that is more than 300% greater than it was going to be otherwise.
Cod is the main reason Congress put hard deadlines and strict fishing limits into MSA in the first place, yet there is enough “flexibility” in the existing federal law to allow the posterfish for commercial excess to endure a 300% upward adjustment in the allowed harvest in spite of a year-old assessment that indicates it is borderline collapsed. On the other hand, NOAA Fisheries says its hands are tied regarding regulations on recreational fisheries like black sea bass in the South Atlantic and red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico, fisheries that are recovering so well that anglers are tripping over fish and being penalized for catching too many.
The flexibility to do what NOAA Fisheries did in New England for cod has existed since the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) was reauthorized in 2006; NOAA Fisheries has simply refused to use that flexibility. Yet they chose to be “flexible” in a fishery which by all indications is in serious trouble, and stonewalled when asked to do the same in recreational fisheries that are in much better shape. Herein lies one of the great mysteries that has made the debates over what to do to address problems associated with MSA so frustrating. Solutions are there and can somehow be applied, even temporarily, to one of the most chronically mismanaged commercial fisheries in the entire country. But in the Gulf, where anglers have a two-snapper limit and an absurd 40-day season, all we have to work with are threats of further reductions and more draconian management measures because the stock has rebounded so wildly that we catch too many big snapper too fast.
And NOAA wonders why the recreational angling community has trust issues with federal management.
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By Ted Venker
Coastal Conservation Association
The illusion continues for NOAA Fisheries.
Last year the agency boldly announced it had ended overfishing. This week, the agency proudly announced that annual catch limits are now in place for most federal fisheries. Wonderful news, if either proclamation had roots in fact or could possibly translate into any good result.
Unable to muster the science to manage to the very high threshold specified by the Magnuson Stevens Act, NOAA Fisheries declared victory without even running the race. It ended overfishing and put a catch limit on every stock under management. On paper. And environmentalists cheered.
Recreational anglers are not cheering.
What will happen back in the real world now that the agency has claimed to have ended overfishing and put in annual catch limits without the science to adequately back it up? The rest of us will eventually have to pay the piper. The agency has built a house of cards and set catch limits that are not tethered to reality. When those limits are exceeded — and we are talking about limits on every single stock under management, the majority of which the agency knows nothing about — the agency will be sued. Sued relentlessly by environmental groups. With no tools to offer any other alternative, NOAA Fisheries will close stock after stock to comply with illusory catch limits. It is relatively easy to end overfishing and enforce catch limits if you simply don’t let anyone fish. And after every closure the environmentalists will cheer and commend the agency for its proactive stance. Won’t that make a good press release?
Real management is difficult and expensive, but infinitely more beneficial for the nation’s fisheries and the citizens who use and enjoy them. But functional management doesn’t seem to be the goal here. NOAA Fisheries has chosen the easier, but far more unpredictable path. By implementing everything from unfair catch shares to imaginary catch limits to archaic allocations, the agency has almost completely alienated its most valuable constituents — the anglers who actually use the nation’s marine resources and put back far more than they take out. Trust and partnership between the agency and the recreational community are at an all-time low. This community is counting the days until the Magnuson-Stevens Act comes up for reauthorization again. At this point it is hard not to believe the agency will eventually reap what it has sown, and that may not be a welcome outcome for the proper conservation of our marine resources.
The current and likely future situation is all the more regrettable when you consider that the Administration could have implemented the most turbulent provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in about 100 different ways — 99 of which would not have left scorched earth in their wake. As concerns mount over the strangling effects of over-regulation on the American economy, it is remarkable that the agency has elected to subject America’s anglers and all their economic potential to the singularly most restrictive interpretation of the law possible, never mind the consequences.
This Administration’s attitude towards fisheries management is strikingly similar to the one that gave the public Prohibition in the 1920s, and the results are likely to be the same. Prohibition, which made criminals out of ordinary citizens overnight, didn’t work because nobody wanted it to work except a small, hardcore group of extremists who didn’t drink alcohol. The country turned itself inside out, spent billions of dollars on a misguided campaign and took more than 10 years to correct its course. The current approach to federal fisheries management is on the same path.
Whether by choice or by circumstance, the agency has frittered away the good will of even the most reasonable of its constituents and has elected to hide behind an illusion of management. This is certainly not the agency the recreational community deserves or expects, nor is it one which contains the essentials of good management.
Tags: Annual catch limits, Magnuson-Stevens Act, NOAA Fisheries
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By Jeff Angers
Center for Coastal Conservation
From The Saltwater Sentinel – the Newsletter of the Center for Coastal Conservation
It is easy to see why federal fisheries management is in the shape it is in.
On one side of the debate is a completely obstinate environmental community that refuses to budge even an inch to address a train wreck in federal fisheries brought on by some provisions of the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson Stevens Act. On the other extreme is a recreational group involved in a coalition of charter and commercial fishing entities that takes a wildly different view from the environmental community.
In between and catching flak from both sides is a coalition of responsible fishing and boating groups working to find a way to address problems in federal fisheries management that doesn’t leave anglers at the dock, while remaining committed to conservation of our marine resources.
Last week, the environmental community sent letters to Congress opposing H.R.2304/S.1916 — the Fishery Science Improvement Act. One of the letters was signed by 129 scientists opposing the bills, although it is not clear if all of those scientists were sure what they were signing. Conversations with some of those scientists after the letter was released confirm that the bills were misrepresented.
This week, the Recreational Fishing Alliance launched yet another attack on everyone who does not support their “Flexibility” bill. Variations of the Flexibility Bill have been introduced in the last three Congresses to fix a 1996 requirement to rebuild overfished fisheries in a time certain. Environmentalists condemned that bill as fundamentally unraveling just about every conservation tenet of the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The 1996 reauthorization of MSA is responsible for many of the conservation provisions that have successfully rebuilt a number of our fisheries. However, that doesn’t discourage RFA from searching for scapegoats in our community for their bill’s repeated failure and engaging in an Internet campaign of scorched earth against its enemies, real and imagined.
Meanwhile, the environmental community refuses to do anything to disprove the impression that its ultimate goal in the 2006 reauthorization was to close the oceans and remove anglers from the water. To the contrary, it uses its vast resources to lobby against any effort to adjust the Magnuson-Stevens Act to fit the current capabilities of NOAA Fisheries. That intractable attitude is one of the factors that drives responsible members of the fishing and boating community up the wall.
It is said that when you start taking flak you know you are over the target. With attacks on the Fishery Science Improvement Act from the extreme ends of the political spectrum, it is clear that the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation, American Sportfishing Association, The Billfish Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, International Game Fish Association and National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Center for Coastal Conservation, must be over the target.
As this session of the 112th Congress comes to a close, it looks as though passage of FSIA may be a bridge too far. But when the Congress reconvenes next month, we have another opportunity. I expect our champion Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) to secure a mark up on the House version of the bill. I believe Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will do likewise in the Senate. And we will solve this problem facing America’s fishermen.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act comes up for reauthorization in a few years, and it is difficult to imagine how radioactive the environment may be by then. By refusing to engage in any meaningful manner, the environmental community has given fertile ground to an increasingly extreme opposition. At a time when groups should be working together to address problems in federal fisheries management, the issue is more polarized than ever and the future is uncertain, if not downright bleak.
Tags: federal fisheries, FSIA, Magnuson-Stevens Act
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House Committee on Natural Resources holds hearing on eight fisheries bills
WASHINGTON, DC – Robert G. Hayes, one of the most respected voices on state, federal and international fisheries management issues, is among those invited by U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, to appear before a hearing of his committee on Dec. 1 and offer testimony on a number of bills that stand to impact federal fisheries management. Hayes will be testifying as the recreational fishing representative on the panel. Other participants include: Rick Marks, Hoffman Silver Gilman & Blasco; Capt. Robert Zales, National Association of Charterboat Operators; Chris Oliver, North Pacific Fishery Management Council; Mike Colby, Double Hook Charter Boat; Peter Shelley, Conservation Law Foundation, and Eric Schwaab, assistant administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“The House Committee on Natural Resources is gathering information on a variety of bills proposing to address some of the well-known problems in federal fisheries management that have appeared since the 2006 reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “It is an important opportunity to discuss a number of bills that have been introduced in the House and referred to this Committee.”
The Committee is focusing on the Coastal Jobs Creation Act of 2011 (H.R. 594); Strengthen Fisheries Management in New England Act of 2011 (H.R. 1013); American Angler Preservation Act (H.R. 1646); Fishery Science Improvement Act of 2011 (H.R. 2304); Asset Forfeiture Fund Reform and Distribution Act of 2011 (H.R. 2610); Fishery Management Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 2753); Saving Fishing Jobs Act of 2011 (H.R. 2772); Flexibility and Access in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2011 (H.R. 3061).
In his testimony, Hayes will focus on the Fisheries Science Improvement Act (H.R. 2304/S. 1916) and highlight three overarching issues of concern with regard to federal fisheries management: 1) the importance of marine recreational fishing; 2) the negative consequences of adopting quotas by sector for every stock of fish under management without standardized assessments to support those decisions, and 3) the urgency of acting now.
“The one-size-fits-all amendments adopted in the 2006 reauthorization of Magnuson undermine the discretion of Councils, which must manage to the species, fishermen and management systems available to them,” Hayes says. “What happened in 2006 was an over-reaching of control that has deprived many of the Councils of the discretion they need to tailor measures appropriate to the science and the management capability they have, not what they would like to have.”
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) introduced the Fishery Science Improvement Act in June with 34 bipartisan co-authors, while Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a Senate version of the bill on Nov 28 with original co-sponsors, including Oceans Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska); Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.); Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.); Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
For a copy of Hayes’ complete written testimony, click here.
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Nelson/Rubio Bill racing the clock to fix management problems in federal saltwater fisheries
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nov. 29, 2011– With a December 31 deadline looming, support is surging for legislation to ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service uses sound science to set catch limits for the nation’s fisheries as a Senate version of the Fishery Science Improvement Act was introduced late yesterday by Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
As amended in 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) requires Regional Fishery Management Councils to put in place annual catch limits (ACLs) for every fishery by December 31, 2011. The requirements were intended to end overfishing by 2011 but were predicated on two critical assumptions: catch limit decisions would be based on up-to-date and accurate stock assessments; and there would be improved catch data to better anticipate potential problems in a given fishery. Neither of these obligations has been met.
“Fishery management decisions should be based on sound science,” Sen. Nelson said. “This legislation will ensure that science is a priority.”
“It’s a simple formula,” said Sen. Rubio. “Regulatory decisions, if necessary, should always be based on sound science. This legislation provides a simple answer to fishermen and to fishery managers.”
Bi-partisan original co-sponsors of the Nelson/Rubio Bill (S.1916) include Oceans Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska); Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.); Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.); Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
Similar to legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and 34 bi-partisan co-authors, the Nelson/Rubio Bill has the backing of a broad coalition of fishing, boating and industry groups that see a critical need for federal managers to avoid an unacceptable situation in which arbitrary deadlines are being allowed to trump the essential need for science-based management of our marine resources.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus – the largest bi-partisan, bi-cameral caucus in the U.S. Congress with nearly 300 Members representing all 50 states – has lent its powerful voice to calls for this legislation that will safeguard the strong conservation standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act while addressing the shortcomings within NOAA Fisheries. The bill has the support of American Sportfishing Association (ASA), Center for Coastal Conservation (Center), Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), International Game Fish Association (IGFA), National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and The Billfish Foundation (TBF).
To maintain MSA’s conservation tenets, the Nelson/Rubio Bill would not apply to stocks that have already been determined to be overfished. However, it offers key components that are intended to steer NOAA Fisheries back to the true intention of the 2006 MSA reauthorization. The bill states that if NOAA Fisheries has not done a stock assessment on a particular stock in the last six years, and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, an annual catch limit on that stock is not required.
“The legislation is critical to sportsmen from coast to coast to coast,” said CSF President Jeff Crane. “NOAA Fisheries needs this discrete legislative fix to ensure that recreational and commercial fishermen are not left at the dock because of the agency’s lack of science.”
The federal government currently has approximately 528 fish stocks or complexes of stocks under management, and today only 121 of those stocks are considered “adequately assessed.” If the agency does not have the data to even hazard a guess about an ACL for some species, there is currently an option for the agency to simply remove those stocks from all management protections, which is not a desirable result. The Nelson/Rubio Bill provides a timely path for NOAA Fisheries to manage all of America’s marine fish stocks based on sound science.
“Conservation of our marine resources is important to anglers, so much so that we demand a level of confidence and trust in the federal fisheries management system,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “The Nelson/Rubio Bill strengthens the ties between science and the rational management of our resources. The ultimate goal of this bill is to achieve sound management practices that make economic sense for the country, conservation sense for the resource and common sense for anglers.”
For a Fact Sheet on the Nelson/Rubio Bill (S.1916), click here.
Tags: federal fisheries, Magnuson-Stevens Act, MSA
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Pew misinformation campaign reaches new low
by Jeff Angers
Center for Coastal Conservation
In what has become a veritable campaign of misinformation, Pew Environment Group issued yet another statement in support of setting annual catch limits on marine fisheries species without the benefit of science-based assessments. Taking the campaign to a new level, Pew is now revising history to make its points:
“Holly Binns, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Southeast Fish Conservation Campaign, issued the following statement [Aug. 8] in response to the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s 8 to 5 vote to approve plans to prevent overfishing that protect dozens of species by setting science-based catch limits.
“‘The council has taken a forward-looking approach that allows managers to set scientifically sound fishing limits now before species suffer population declines. This proactive strategy is necessary to avoid what happened with South Atlantic red snapper, which is in such severe trouble that a fishing moratorium was needed in 2010 to save the species.’
“‘This plan will help avert steeper restrictions in the future, setting a course towards restoring a healthy, balanced ocean ecosystem. It is like visiting the doctor for preventive care, rather than waiting until you end up in the emergency room.’”
There are so many misstatements of fact in that statement, it is hard to know where to begin. For starters, there is nothing “scientifically sound” about setting catch limits without the benefit of a stock assessment. Those catch limits are going to be set by SWAG — scientific wild-ass guess – which doesn’t necessarily bother an environmentalist but does strike a nerve with anglers and others who actually use America’s public resources.
Second, the South Atlantic red snapper crisis came about precisely because NOAA Fisheries neglected to do a stock assessment for decades — the exact course of action Pew is advocating now for all marine fisheries. In a sense, the Council managed that fishery by SWAG and got it horribly wrong, so wrong that when they finally did do an assessment, they almost had to close the bottom of the entire South Atlantic to fix it. And ironically, if I recall correctly, Pew was very much in favor of that closure.
Third, as exemplified by South Atlantic red snapper, nothing about setting limits based on SWAGs is going to prevent managers from having to enact steeper restrictions in the future when and if an assessment finally shows them how radically wrong those limits are. And, in the most gaping fault with Pew’s logic, once the catch limits are set without an assessment, there is no motivation for managers to spend the money and resources to actually examine the state of the stock with an assessment. Red snapper became a crisis after the stock assessment. If they had never done an assessment — and NOAA Fisheries has shown a systemic reluctance to expend resources on assessments in recreational fisheries — red snapper would still be heading merrily down the drain, and no one would be the wiser.
Pew likes to say that managing this way is “preventative” medicine, and it’s better than ending up in the emergency room. In reality, they are advocating exactly the opposite. They are advocating that you never visit the doctor, never run any tests, never draw blood or have an x-ray. And by time you realize there is a problem, you go straight to the morgue.
That is no way to manage a fishery.
There are rational ways to manage wildlife resources that are employed all over this country. Anglers are seeking the same for marine species, no more, no less. But we are not going to get there by revising history and distorting reality.
Tags: Annual catch limits, Magnuson-Stevens Act, South Atlantic red snapper
Posted in CCA Blogs, Magnuson-Stevens Act | 2 Comments »
There you go again…
By Jeff Angers
Center for Coastal Conservation
It is more of the same from the Pew Environment Group. The message below making the rounds in DC has all the hallmarks of the environmental community’s overall approach to marine resource management. If you believe a hodgepodge of partial bits of information that perhaps add up to an informed guess is good enough to manage our nation’s marine fisheries, then I guess you don’t mind sending messages to Congress that leave out critical pieces of information either.
The message below urges Congress to oppose much-needed adjustments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and laments the losses to the commercial fishing sector due to overfishing. Pew doesn’t seem so concerned about losses to the recreational sector due to overfishing, but that isn’t a surprise.
Overfishing costs all businesses in this arena money over the value potentially available if the stock was recovered. However, the proposed legislation, H.R. 2304, doesn’t change the fact that management is going to continue recovering those stocks.
H.R. 2304 is not trying to alter rebuilding schedules. Far from it. Annual catch limits for overfished stocks have already been set. H.R. 2304 only asks that managers not be forced to destroy fisheries based on bad science and weaken conservation by dropping fish out of fishery management plans just to comply with a statutory deadline.
Environmentalist groups like to pretend they are only ones who don’t like overfishing. They’re not. Everyone agrees that overfishing is horrible and that it costs us money, reducing the economic viability and sustainability of our coastal communities Everyone wants stocks recovered quickly. But not everyone is willing to be rational about it.
New report shows fishermen in the Southeast losing millions due to chronic overfishing
Dear Senator ——————–,
I am writing to let you know about a new report released by the Pew Environment Group showing that commercial fishermen in the Southeast region who targeted depleted ocean fish populations such as gag grouper and red snapper lost $15.2 million in 2009. These losses were the direct result of decades of overfishing – catching fish faster than they can reproduce. Congress recognized the costly toll of overfishing when it strengthened the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) with bipartisan requirements to establish science-based annual catch limits to end overfishing and rebuild U.S. ocean fish populations. The Pew Environment Group respectfully requests you to reject efforts to undermine these requirements so that we can restore our nation’s fish populations to healthy levels and put those dollars back in fishermen’s wallets.
The Hidden Cost of Overfishing to Commercial Fishermen, a report produced by the non-profit organization Ecotrust for the Pew Environment Group, analyzes the impact of chronic overfishing by calculating the revenue lost in 2009 by commercial fishermen in three regions with the highest levels of overfishing. We hope you will consider these findings and continue Congress’ bipartisan tradition of support for the MSA.
If you or your staff have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 202-552-2065 or email@example.com. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Lee R. Crockett
Director, Federal Fisheries Policy
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Testimony before House committee hearing explains how lack of science impacts recreational fishing and the economy
WASHINGTON, DC – With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continuing to struggle in the management of the nation’s fisheries, lawmakers today held a committee hearing intended to explore the impact of a looming deadline that will force the agency to set annual catch limits on stocks of fish for which it has no science. Today’s hearing, “NOAA’s Fishery Science: Is the Lack of Basic Science Costing Jobs? looked at how NOAA’s fishery research affects jobs and the coastal economy.
As amended in 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) requires federal fishery management councils to put in place annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for every fishery by December 31, 2011. The requirements were intended to end overfishing by 2011 but were predicated on two critical assumptions: NOAA Fisheries would make decisions based on up-to-date and accurate stock assessments; and the agency would improve catch data to better anticipate potential problems in a given fishery. Neither of these obligations has been met.
Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation, was invited to testify before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs on behalf of American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association and The Billfish Foundation.
“How has the agency managed this great American business – marine recreational fishing – that generates $92.2 billion in total sales? That employs 533,813 people? That contributes $621.5 million in license purchases? How is NOAA Fisheries managing us?” asked Angers. “In a word: Poorly. All the vast, positive effects of recreational fishing on the American economy are based on three things: good management of marine fisheries, a sustainable resource and access to that resource. The agency’s lack of science is impacting all three.”
In his testimony, Angers laid out the case for HR 2304, the Fishery Science Improvement Act, sponsored by Rob Wittman (R-Va.) that seeks to avoid a situation in which the agency is compelled by statutory deadlines to make major fishery management decisions using inadequate data and incomplete analysis. In one of its core provisions, HR 2304 states that if the agency has not assessed a stock of fish in the last five years and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, there is no requirement to set an ACL.
“NOAA Fisheries is simply making guesses in many cases when setting catch limits and in determining other management parameters, and guesswork should have no place in federal fisheries management,” said Angers. “No other wildlife resource management agency would think of operating without standardized stock surveys and assessments. Yet, for our marine resources, a hodgepodge of partial bits of information that perhaps add up to an informed guess is somehow good enough. We don’t accept that. That will always fall short of the standards we as a nation have used for managing our fish and wildlife resources.”
HR 2304 is supported by the 300-member-strong Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, as well as groups representing sportfishers and the marine industry. More than two dozen other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have signed on as co-sponsors.
“Without Congressional action, arbitrary decisions affecting millions of anglers and thousands of businesses will continue to be made, and we can’t let that happen to anglers on the coast of Virginia or Louisiana or California or Alaska,” said Angers. “Today’s hearing is a wakeup call beyond this Subcommittee. The millions of Americans who responsibly utilize the nation’s public fishery resources and depend on them for jobs and recreation know this Congress can and will solve this problem.”
Click HERE for Angers’ full written testimony.
Tags: ACL, Annual catch limits, HR 2304, Magnuson-Stevens Act
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Improved Science Is Better Than No Science
by Jeff Angers
Center for Coastal Conservation
Many groups in the environmental community have come out in opposition to the Fishery Science Improvement Act (H.R. 2304). While some of those groups have reacted in typical knee-jerk fashion, labeling supporters of the bill as favoring “extinction,” the more thoughtful among them have circulated concerns that are no less illogical, but perhaps more diplomatically phrased.
The most recent effort to distort FSIA, dramatically titled “HR 2304: A Bill That Would Weaken Fisheries Science and Jeopardize Efforts to Prevent Overfishing,” exhorts Congress to reject H.R. 2304 by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) because “it would undermine the progress we’ve made preventing overfishing for some of America’s most valuable and vulnerable ocean fish populations.”
Opponents of FSIA disapprove of the bill’s requirement that managers have a modern, recent assessment in hand in order to set an annual catch limit (ACL) for a stock of fish. Terrestrial and freshwater wildlife resource management agencies would not think of operating without standardized stock surveys and assessments. Yet, for our marine resources, it appears that some groups believe that “readily available information such as biology” is adequate to replace a standardized, peer-reviewed stock assessment as the foundation of management, even when it has drastic social and economic consequences. A hodgepodge of partial bits of information that perhaps add up to an informed guess will always fall short of the standards we as a nation have used for managing our fish and wildlife resources.
At its core, FSIA rejects the notion that a swag — a scientific wild ass guess — is good enough to be the foundation of management for hundreds of marine stocks that have either never had an assessment or have been deemed inadequately assessed by NOAA Fisheries.
From their same artful hatchet job opponents maintain: FSIA would “undermine the ACL requirement by exempting managers from setting science-based catch limits for fish populations that have not been assessed in the past five years. It would also prevent managers from using scientifically valid methods for establishing catch limits based on existing and readily available information such as the biology of the species and recent commercial and recreational catch data.”
In fact, federal fisheries managers have taken actions in the past to prevent overfishing in the absence of a quantitative assessment by proactive use of aggregate bag limits, vessel limits, minimum size limits, gear restrictions, seasonal and areal closures and other common sense measures. Without passage of H.R. 2304, managers will be forced to abandon these approaches and set an artificial quota (a dart thrown at the wall) in pounds per year without the science to back such measures. In response to this conundrum, the regional fishery management councils currently are removing species from management plans and leaving them without any conservation measures for protection. You will not see that harsh reality addressed in any of the attack pieces currently circulating.
The inaccurate ENGO piece also distorts the status quo and misleads the reader on the legislation when it claims, “The misnamed ‘Fisheries Science Improvement Act’ would create a new loophole that could allow the Secretary of Commerce to exempt scores of fish species from the requirement to establish science-based catch limits, including those that are undergoing overfishing. H.R. 2304 would establish a new, ill-defined category of fish populations known as ‘ecosystem stocks’ that are exempt from catch limits.”
In fact, ecosystem management has been promoted by scientists and conservationists for years and is currently used by NOAA Fisheries. But to manage larger core groups of like-species as “ecosystem stocks” with aggregate bag limits, vessel limits, minimum size limits, gear restrictions, seasonal and areal closures and other common sense measures will provide broad protections for the greatest number of species while science catches up with specific quantitative assessments.
The stocks we know are vulnerable (through assessments) are already being managed by catch limits and other conservation tools. We do not know the status of the vast majority of other species now covered by federal fishery management plans. H.R. 2304 will promote the development of the data and science necessary to determine the status of these data-poor stocks while allowing the fishery management councils to continue managing them with measures other than arbitrary caps on annual pounds landed. This will let the councils retain the ability to use existing tools, their backgrounds and experience, and common sense to forge a balanced management approach that provides protection to these stocks without unnecessarily crushing the economic engine provided to this country by the businesses that support the fishing industry.
The specious claim advanced is that the mere existence of the statutory ACL requirement has improved stock assessments and data collection. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not a single ACL has been implemented for any of the hundreds of healthy stocks as a result of this provision.
The ENGO then lists stocks of fish that could be exempted from the ACL provisions of the statute as a result of FSIA. I can report that almost without exception, every stock listed is currently managed by quotas, gear restrictions, trip limits, effort limitation programs, closed areas, closed seasons, size limits, and individual and/or aggregate bag limits. All these classic fishery management tools are working.
Let’s not abandon classic fishery management tools for one-size-fits-all ACLs when we do not have the data to inform that decision making. Let’s give improved science a chance to work for conservation.
Tags: Fishery Science Improvement Act, FSIA, Magnuson-Stevens Act
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Anglers and industry groups unite to address catch limit problems in federal saltwater fisheries
WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 23, 2011 – A bill introduced by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) seeks to ensure that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Fisheries Service is required to set catch limits based on sound science. The bi-partisan legislation, known as the Fishery Science Improvement Act (FSIA), is endorsed by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus as well as a broad coalition of conservation, sportfishing and marine industry groups. Original co-sponsors of H.R. 2304 include Rep. Wittman’s colleagues Reps. Mike Ross (D-Ark.); Jeff Miller (R-Fla.); Heath Shuler (D-N.C.); Bob Latta (R-Ohio); Jo Bonner (R-Ala.); Dan Boren (D-Okla.); Charles Boustany (R-La.); Bill Cassidy (R-La.); Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.); John Fleming (R-La.); Frank Guinta (R-N.H.); Andy Harris (R-Md.); Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.); Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.); Jeff Landry (R-La.); Scott Rigell (R-Va.), and Steve Southerland (R-Fla.).
“We applaud the vision and leadership of Mr. Wittman and the other FSIA co-sponsors,” said Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “The sportfishing community is facing an unacceptable situation in which arbitrary deadlines are being allowed to trump the essential need for science-based management of our marine resources. We are grateful to Mr. Wittman and his colleagues for identifying the problem we have in federal saltwater fisheries and taking action on this issue.”
As amended in 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) requires Regional Fishery Management Councils to put in place annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for every fishery by December 31, 2011. The requirements were intended to end overfishing by 2011 but were predicated on two critical assumptions: NOAA Fisheries would make decisions based on up-to-date and accurate stock assessments; and the agency would improve catch data to better anticipate potential problems in a given fishery. Neither of these obligations has been met.
To maintain the conservation tenets of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, FSIA would not apply to stocks that are determined to be overfished. However, it offers three key components that are intended to steer NOAA Fisheries back to the true intention of the 2006 MSA reauthorization:
- If the agency has not done a stock assessment on a particular stock in the last five years, and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, an annual catch limit on that stock is not required.
- FSIA gives NOAA Fisheries three years to work with the regional councils to figure out how to implement science-based measures that are appropriate for each region and its fish.
- To avoid removing fish species from management entirely due to lack of data, NOAA Fisheries is currently designating a limited number of such stocks as “ecosystem components,” allowing the continued federal management of the stock without the requirement to implement an annual catch limit or accountability measure. FSIA codifies the agency’s designation and expands the universe of stocks protected in this category.
The federal government currently has approximately 528 fish stocks or complexes of stocks under management and only 110 of those stocks are considered “adequately assessed.” If the agency does not have the data to even hazard a guess about an Annual Catch Limit for some species, there is currently an option for the agency to simply remove those stocks from all management protections, which is not a desirable result. H.R. 2304 provides a timely path for NOAA Fisheries to manage all of America’s marine fish stocks based on sound science. (Click here for a FSIA Fact Sheet.)
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus – the largest bi-partisan, bi-cameral caucus in the U.S. Congress with nearly 300 Members representing all 50 states – has lent its powerful voice to calls for this legislation that will safeguard the strong conservation standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act while addressing the shortcomings within NOAA Fisheries. The bill also has the support of American Sportfishing Association (ASA), Center for Coastal Conservation (Center), Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), International Game Fish Association (IGFA), National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and The Billfish Foundation (TBF).
Comments offered today by coalition group leaders:
Center for Coastal Conservation
Jeff Angers, President
“The conservation tenets of the Magnuson-Stevens Act are important to anglers, and so is a level of confidence and trust in the federal fisheries management system,” said Jeff Angers, president of the Center for Coastal Conservation. “The Fishery Science Improvement Act will help move us beyond the crisis management of today into sound management that makes economic sense for the country, conservation sense for the resource and common sense for anglers.”
National Marine Manufacturers Association
Thom Dammrich, President
“This bill is simple and targeted,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “As sportsmen, we have a specific problem with how NOAA Fisheries is being forced to implement the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and it has become apparent that we need Congress to address it. Without Congressional action, arbitrary decisions affecting millions of anglers and thousands of businesses will continue to be made.”
International Game Fish Association
Rob Kramer, President
“The goal here is not to water down the law to fit the agency, but rather to build up the agency to fulfill its significant responsibilities under the law,” said International Game Fish Association President Rob Kramer. “Data gathering and stock assessments carried out in a consistent fashion all around the country should be the absolute highest priority at NOAA Fisheries.”
Coastal Conservation Association
Pat Murray, President
“Fixing the federal management system for America’s fisheries is a process that won’t occur overnight,” said Pat Murray, president of the Coastal Conservation Association. “FSIA is an important step enabling NOAA Fisheries to protect our nation’s fisheries, but not create unwarranted recreational closures.”
American Sportfishing Association
Mike Nussman, President and CEO
“NOAA Fisheries, although far from being able to meet the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, is going ahead with onerous fishery management decisions anyway, despite the impacts on the nation’s 13 million saltwater anglers and the tens of thousands of businesses that depend on marine recreational fishing,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO, American Sportfishing Association. “When the Magnuson-Stevens Act was reauthorized by unanimous consent in December 2006, NOAA Fisheries was tasked with gathering the science to set catch limits on federally managed species. The agency has not used its resources to achieve that goal, and the results are not acceptable. The Fishery Science Improvement Act goes a long way to solving this critical problem.”
The Billfish Foundation
Ellen Peel, President
“To the credit of the leadership at NOAA, Jane Lubchenco and Eric Schwaab, there has been much outreach and a substantial effort to try to solve this problem,” said Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation. “We’ve worked very closely with the agency to craft this solution, and we look forward to continuing a dialogue with them to fix the problem.”
Tags: Annual catch limits, Fishery Science Improvement Act, Magnuston-Stevens Act, MSA
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