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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service Executive Summary The mission of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is to manage the marine fisheries of the United States to serve the nation now and to benefit future generations. The physical domain that NMFS manages is the largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the world, with an area of 3.4 million square nautical miles (11 million square kilometers). This area spans arctic to tropical ecosystems and is home to 905 identified stocks of fish and invertebrates, and over 100 species of marine mammals and sea turtles. Of the marine mammals, 44 populations are strategic, that is, they are either listed as threatened, endangered, or they are declining populations that are at risk. As NMFS manages marine fisheries, it operates under a complex set of laws. The centerpiece of fisheries legislation is the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA), an act that had its origins in 1976 when the United States extended federal management to fisheries within the Fisheries Conservation Zone (now named the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ) that had been established the year before, from 3 to 200 miles offshore. Under the MSFCMA, eight regional fishery management councils work with NMFS in developing fishery management plans (FMPs). With the enactment of this law, the fishing industry, through its membership on the regional fishery management councils (FMCs), had a far greater voice in marine-fish management. Since 1976, the original legislation has been modified by repeated efforts to halt the ongoing decline of fish populations and to reflect the chang
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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service ing values of the nation. The modifications have increasingly provided more detailed mandates for management, yet the governance structure has been largely untouched. The latest modifications and amendments require that fishing be at or below the optimum yield and that depleted stocks be recovered in no more than 10 years. Moreover, MSFCMA mandates that fisheries be managed with ecosystem considerations, prevent bycatch, and protect essential fish habitat. Fishing impacts non-targeted organisms both directly and indirectly: directly by entangling them in nets, or indirectly by diminishing their prey and destroying marine habitat. NMFS must also comply with a number of acts that ensure proper procedures are followed, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Thus, NMFS must achieve a delicate balance as it manages marine fisheries under overlapping and sometimes divergent laws. On one hand, these laws emphasize the importance to the nation in using these important renewable resources; on the other hand, the laws emphasize the importance of rebuilding depleted stocks and protecting threatened and endangered marine animals. Not surprisingly, NMFS regulations are contentious, given the complexity of managing marine fisheries today. In the past 10 years, the National Research Council has undertaken a dozen studies of marine fisheries at the behest of Congress and NMFS itself. A review of these studies shows that many of the same issues and recommendations are revisited in study after study. This pattern occurs not primarily because Congress and NMFS have ignored the recommendations in these studies, but because these problems are difficult to rectify. The contentiousness of the regulations among stakeholders is seen in the history of the litigation. Litigation has increased dramatically since the enactment of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA) in 1976 and the Sustainable Fisheries Act in 1996 (which significantly amended the MFCMA). As of January 2002, there were in excess of 110 legal cases pending against NMFS (NMFS, personal communication). Though NMFS wins many lawsuits based on the strength and quality of its science, lost cases are a special concern because they may indicate where NMFS’s science and policies are vulnerable to future legal challenge, as well as where NMFS management of marine fisheries may be failing. Based in part on its concern over the dramatic increase in recent lawsuits against NMFS, Congress requested in 2001 that the National Academy of Public Administration provide “a thorough review of NMFS’s legal
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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service defense capabilities, financial-management capacity, constituent relations, and organizational structure,” and that the National Academy of Sciences [through the National Research Council] provide “a summary review of the adequacy of the data, scientific foundation, models, and processes used by NMFS to guide resource management, meet regulatory requirements, and provide support in response to litigation.” To provide this review, a committee of experts was formed by the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council. The statement of task specified that the committee, in making its assessment, should rely largely on previous NRC reports that examined NMFS’s stock assessment models, data-collection methods, and other aspects of the NMFS science program and the actions taken by NMFS in response to the reports. Therefore, the committee was drawn from experts who had served on one or more previous NRC studies of NMFS and marine fisheries issues. In addition to reviewing previous NRC reports, the committee also reviewed recent legal cases, and heard presentations by NMFS personnel, the NOAA General Counsel, and people involved with recent litigation. RECOMMENDATIONS NMFS has a difficult and complex task in managing U.S. marine fisheries. Despite some successes, too many stocks continue to decline. Over the past decade, several problems have been identified that have contributed to the current dissatisfaction with how marine fisheries are managed. This dissatisfaction is evident from the large number of lawsuits filed by the fishing industry and environmental organizations. One central problem is overfishing. Overfishing issues have been discussed in a series of NRC reports, and these reports identify overcapitalization, and technological and gear improvements as some of the causes. The reports recommend ways to stem these problems and to advance the practice of fishery science at NMFS. This report reiterates some of these recommendations, and makes new recommendations to enhance the use of data and science for fisheries management. Recommendations to NMFS NMFS should maintain and advance its tradition of excellence in fisheries science. NMFS has been a world leader in the development of fisheries stock assessment models. Traditionally, these have been single-species models de-
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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service veloped over decades. Most fisheries scientists now consider the development of new models to be of the utmost importance, especially those that incorporate ecosystem considerations and multiple species dynamics. Recent papers demonstrate that NMFS scientists are actively participating in or leading the development of such models. For example, these models help clarify the effect of fishing on species other than the target. Despite the future promise of multispecies models and models that include ecosystem considerations, such models have not yet attained a level of reliability sufficient for accurate stock assessment predictions. Until multispecies models can be applied reliably, this committee supports the recommendation from previous NRC reports that NMFS rely on single-species models with risk-averse and precautionary constraints, consistent with the mandates in the MSFCMA. NMFS should also continue to develop new models and to use several models for the same data to observe the robustness of model predictions. Recommendations in several reports, particularly Improving Fish Stock Assessments, were detailed and thorough and are still relevant. Many of the recommendations that did not require new funding have already been implemented by NMFS. NMFS should continue to find ways to implement the other recommendations. NMFS must balance its traditional emphasis on sustainable exploitation with its duty to protect vulnerable species and habitats harmed by fishing. Fishing can have unintended consequences, such as causing mortality to vulnerable species. Such species include marine mammals and sea turtles, as well as overfished species that are killed as bycatch in other fisheries. Several of the lawsuits that NMFS lost concerned the impact of fishing on marine mammals and the unknown magnitude of bycatch. These are areas where the necessary data collection and research either were not done in a timely manner or were not done at all. Additionally, the MSFCMA clearly specifies that essential fish habitats must be preserved, while the ESA clearly mandates the protection of threatened and endangered species. These are areas where NMFS needs to develop additional expertise and analyses. NMFS should create an atmosphere that encourages innovation and rewards excellence, as recommended in previous National Research Council reports. Many of the nation’s best fisheries scientists are employed at NMFS. The contribution that NMFS scientists make to advance the field is no-
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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service table. As it has in the past, NMFS should continue to encourage and reward excellence in innovative science. NMFS has often promoted its best scientists to leadership positions. However, a threat to its tradition of excellence is the demoralizing atmosphere that can develop in an agency that is given unclear and difficult mandates that often result in litigation, or which fails to make the best use of its scientific expertise to guide management decisions. With its current heavy load of cases, time is taken away from the necessary tasks of stock assessment and scientific innovations. NMFS should develop and implement a plan for rapid response to research needs identified in recovery and conservation plans. NMFS has lost at least two lawsuits because of its lack of timely information on marine mammal and fishery interactions. NMFS knew this information was needed, but was unable to provide it on time. This may be due to a lower priority given to such analyses, or to inadequate funding for the type of data collection needed to support such analyses. One challenge to responding rapidly to newly identified research needs is the nature of the funding cycle. Budgets must be planned years ahead, but response and analysis to new research needs must often be rapid. Appropriate budgeting mechanisms must be developed to cover such exigencies. NMFS should continue to use and seek advice and review from independent sources. In the past, NMFS has been criticized for the lack of independent review of its stock assessments. Even though the agency employs some of the world’s best fisheries scientists, they are not infallible, and their mistakes can have grave impact on fisheries and fishing communities. Hence, independent review should be a fundamental component of developing stock assessments. In this way, stock assessments can be improved before they are used as the basis of an FMP. A problem that faces NMFS is the scarcity of independent expertise. The field of fishery science is small, and the same knowledgeable people are asked repeatedly to participate throughout the process. This participation can become burdensome, since these fisheries scientists have other responsibilities. NMFS has recently developed the Center for Independent Experts (CIE) to conduct such independent reviews. The CIE is a good start, but NMFS may need to encourage even broader participation from scientists in other disciplines, especially as NMFS develops broader models (multispecies, ecosystem) that are capable of accurate predictions.
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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service NMFS and the councils should develop quantifiable management goals and collect data to measure progress toward these goals. NMFS and the councils participate in managing fisheries by developing FMPs. Once the plans are approved, and regulations are promulgated, the assumption is that goals of the FMP will be obtained. Such goals may include biological reference points and minimum impact to fishing communities. Stock assessments are currently made with retrospective analyses that track past predictions to their actualizations. However, without collection of socio-economic data, it is difficult to evaluate whether other goals are realized, such as minimum impact to fishing communities. NMFS must build a scientific workforce to meet the future needs of the agency. In summer 2000, at the request of NMFS, the NRC held a one-day workshop on recruiting scientists to careers with the agency. NMFS built its current workforce from scientists born during the baby-boom years when quantitative training was good, educated people were more plentiful than jobs, and concern for the environment was high. NMFS now faces the daunting task of replacing its near-retirement workforce of quantitative scientists at a time when fewer of these scientists are being trained and other industries are offering better salaries and more prestige for scientists with these skills. The report Recruiting Fishery Scientists provided ideas for building this workforce and we reiterate the message contained in that report; NMFS must begin now to meet these needs or it will not have trained people to manage marine fisheries in the future. Five areas of science, identified in previous NRC reports, should receive increased emphasis. Listed below are the five areas of science identified as inadequate which may have been responsible for some of the increased litigation in the past few years. It may be necessary to redirect budgets or augment them to bolster these activities. Development of research plans and analysis relevant to MMPA and ESA mandates. Collection and analysis of spatial data to meet the needs of managing using spatial models, marine-protected areas, and essential fish habitat designations.
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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service Development of new models with multi-species interactions, trophic structure, and ecosystem effects. Development of analytic techniques that link social and economic data to biological data. Linking market and non-market values with management scenarios. Recommendations to Congress Congress should fund continued acquisition and deployment of new vessels and the Fisheries Information System, as recommended in previous NRC reports. The report Improving Fish Stock Assessments emphasized the importance of fishery-independent surveys to provide estimates of abundance that could be used to refine stock-assessment models. Without these fishery-independent estimates, model predictions can be severely biased and unreliable. To conduct such surveys, NMFS must be able to have access to ocean-going vessels that are outfitted with modern equipment. Continued acquisition of these data will diminish some of the inherent uncertainty in our knowledge of fish-population dynamics. Similarly, the report Improving the Collection, Management, and Use of Marine Fisheries Data concluded that Congress should provide adequate funding to develop and implement a database of fisheries data, the Fisheries Information System (FIS), on a regional basis. The FIS would provide a national umbrella for these data as previously requested by Congress and by the Secretary of Commerce. These remain priority items, and Congress should move ahead with these initiatives. Congress should initiate a review of the fisheries governance system and the use of science in governance. Although the laws governing the management of marine fisheries have been amended since the inception of the MFCMA in 1976, the governance structure remains virtually unchanged. In 1994, the report Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries recommended changes in the governance structure, including the composition of the regional fishery management councils. There has been no full-scale evaluation of the effectiveness of the governance structure since. It appears that some of the court rulings against NMFS were due to unwise compromises made in regards to stock-assessment advice used for FMPs developed by the councils.
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Science and Its Role in the National Marine Fisheries Service Congress should examine the cost of collection, analysis, and management of data required by NMFS to fulfill its current mandates. The mission of NMFS has expanded greatly since its inception along with the legislative mandates for managing marine fisheries. Although the NMFS budget has grown, the base budget has remained almost constant, with most of the increase going to earmarked projects. When NMFS’s science failed under legal challenge, there were indications that part of the underlying problem may have been insufficient funding to accomplish the mandated science. A first step would be to examine the current and projected costs of data collection, analysis, and management under all of the legal mandates that guide NMFS management to assess whether resources are adequate to comply with existing laws. Unfortunately, the limited duration of the study did not allow the committee to perform such an examination. Recommendation to NMFS and Congress The importance of social and economic data and analysis to marine fisheries management should be recognized in the reauthorization of MSFCMA, resulting federal regulations, fishery management plans, NMFS budget requests, and congressional appropriations. Overfishing has resulted in the depletion of many fishery stocks. It is driven by economic factors, such as overcapitalization, and social conditions in fishing communities, such as the lack of alternate employment opportunities. The MSFCMA mandates that stocks should be rebuilt, and that this should be done, where possible, in a manner that minimizes the economic dislocation in fishing communities. Many previous NRC reports have considered economic and social aspects of marine fisheries and made recommendations for NMFS to increase the collection of these data, and hire scientists with this expertise so that socio-economic analyses can be completed as part of the fisheries management planning process. This committee recommends that NMFS fully implement its plan to hire social scientists and economists. Having the necessary expertise within NMFS is an important component of collecting and analyzing these data as a part of fisheries management. However, the committee also recommends that NMFS increase the collection of social and economic data for use in the development of FMPs.
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