Center for Sustainable Fisheries Statement on Bill No. 4742 from Listening Session with Congressman Tierney and Congressman DeFazio
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
On May 29th, the House Natural Resources Committee (“the Committee”) passed (23-17) Congressman Doc Hasting’s Bill No. 4742 (“the Bill”), called the “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act,” to reauthorize and amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (“MSA”). The Center for Sustainable Fisheries (“CSF”) is supportive of the Bill because it re-iterates Congress’ intent to have a science-based management system that includes three tenets of good science: transparency; cooperation; and collaboration. By affording flexibility to the Councils and Secretary the Bill also re-iterates Congressional intent to balance and equally meet all goals of the MSA in Fishery Management Plans (“FMPs”) and management measures.
There are five primary topics in the Bill that will move fisheries management forward towards a more balanced, flexible, and scientific system that will in turn lead to stronger fishing communities, healthy fish stocks, and effective management measures.
First, the National Research Council’s (“NRC”) “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Fish Stock Assessments” report, discussed in detail the 10-year rebuilding timeline as an arbitrary, unscientific provision that should be amended. Taking note of the NRC’s report and recommendations, the Committee’s new provisions, replace the unscientific ten-year rebuilding time-line with the science-based, flexible standard of the “time the stock would be rebuilt without fishing occurring plus one mean generation.”
Second, the Bill replaces the term “overfished” with “depleted.” Replacing the term is important to ensuring that the cause of a stock depletion is correctly identified. Correctly identifying the cause of a stock depletion is an important first step towards minimizing and/or resolving the cause of the depletion.
Third, increasing the Councils’ and Secretary’s flexibility to set Annual Catch Limits (“ACLs”) is important to ensuring that management measures reflect both scientific reality and a balance of all the MSA goals. For example under Section 104 of the Bill, the Council will have the discretion to “consider changes in an ecosystem and the economic needs of the fishing communities” when setting ACLs and implementing a multiyear ACL for multispecies complexes. Both discretionary provisions increase flexibility and allow for fisheries management to seriously take into account the socio-economic impacts to fishing communities and to develop as knowledge increases about such things as multi-species complexes.
Fourth, transparency, cooperation, and collaboration are three important scientific principles that, when followed, leads to both a scientific process that identifies the “best scientific information available” and effective and appropriate management measures. The Bill includes provisions to improve upon the three principles. To increase transparency and collaboration, the SSCs, must “develop [ ] advice in a transparent manner and allow for public involvement.” The recommendations that the SSC makes have direct impact on the ACLs and management measures set by the Council and Secretary. Knowing why and how the SSC reaches their decisions is an important step forward to ensure that National Standard 2’s “best scientific information available” is achieved. Increased transparency will provide the SSCs with the opportunity to present all alternatives and studies that meet the conservation goals to the Councils. The Councils will then be able to make fully informed decisions based on the “best scientific information available” and set management measures to balance and achieve all the goals of the MSA.
Additionally, to further cooperation between the government, industry, and other stakeholders, the Committee believes cooperative research must be increased. Cooperative research is an important, cost effective component of fisheries management that produces real-time data. Section 110 of the Bill requires that within one year of enactment the Secretary publish a plan to implement and conduct cooperative research programs, including with fishing vessels and acoustic and other marine technology. Utilizing real time data from multiple sources will decrease the need to apply excessive uncertainty buffers, increase the simplification and frequency of stock assessments, and ensure that the Councils and Secretary have up-to-date information upon which to set appropriate catch levels and effective management measures.
Lastly, a goal of the Committee is to increase data collection of data poor stocks. Increasing data collection is essential to ensuring that management decisions are based, as much as possible, on timely or as close to real time as possible scientific information and that regulations are set accordingly. Section 109 requires Councils to identify and prioritize data collection on data poor fisheries. A data poor fishery is a fishery that has not been surveyed in the last 5 years, a fishery that has not been assessed in the last 5 years, or a stock where there is limited information on the status of the stock.
The House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee’s goal in passing the Bill is to help strengthen fishing communities and increase flexibility. The Bill is a good first step to achieve these goals.
However, in the long term both rewriting and reorganizing the National Standards to clearly reflect a balance and clarifying what is meant by the phrase “best scientific information available” must be addressed. Rewriting and reorganizing the National Standards will lead to balancing the goals of safety at sea, healthy fish stocks, and thriving fishing communities. Defining “best scientific information available” will lead to clarity about whether Congress intends the definition to include data or conclusions or both.
Great care must be taken in implementing the Bill’s provisions to ensure that Congressional intent is carried out. Of particular importance is ensuring implementation reflects a balance between all the goals of the MSA. Additionally, implementing a scientific process that is transparent, collaborative, and cooperative is important to ensuring that all scientific studies and catch advice that meet the conservation goals are presented to the Councils and Secretary so that “the best scientific information available” can be identified and used to set management measures.
Through virtual real time science, transparency, cooperation, collaboration, and greater consideration of economic impacts and the sustainability of fisheries, United States fishery management will reflect a science-based system that appropriately balances all the MSA goals and leads to long-term sustainability of our Nation’s resources and fishing communities.
The Center for Sustainable Fisheries is a non-profit organization devoted to the conservation of our fisheries resources and the economic development of our fishing communities.