WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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-AR); Jeff Miller (R-FL); Heath Shuler (D-NC); Bob Latta (R-OH); Jo Bonner (R-AL.); Dan Boren (D-OK); Charles Boustany (R-LA); Bill Cassidy (R-LA); Jeff Duncan (R-SC); John Fleming (R-LA); Frank Guinta (R-NH); Andy Harris (R-MD); Martin Heinrich (D-NM); Duncan Hunter (R-CA); Jeff Landry (R-LA); Scott Rigell (R-VA); and Steve Southerland (R-FL).
"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 fisheries.
• 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 guesstimate 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 scientific data. Click here for the Fishery Science Improvement Act 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 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:
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
Article Courtesy of American Sportfishing Association