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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries Summary Harvested marine species, including finfish, crustaceans, shellfish, and marine plants, are a valuable national resource. Managers of marine fisheries1 have a responsibility to maintain fish stocks at or above levels of abundance that can sustain maximum yields over the long term while providing opportunities for commercial and recreational fishing. In addition to balancing stock maintenance and harvesting, effective management must also minimize waste, protect habitats and/or non-targeted vulnerable populations, and maintain the health of marine ecosystems, e.g. productivity, diversity, and environmental quality, on which fish depend. Fishery management in the United States has not achieved the success in conserving fish stocks that was anticipated when the original fisheries management law was passed in 1976. In 1991, fish stocks were reportedly less abundant than before 1976, and out of 236 fish species reviewed, National Marine Fisheries Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 67 as being over-utilized. Reauthorization of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MFCMA), the current law governing fisheries management, provides an opportunity to make changes that will improve our management capabilities. To assess the effectiveness of present U.S. fisheries management, a Committee on Fisheries was estab- 1 In this report reference to fishery resources or fish is intended to be general and inclusive of all marine species that are under federal fisheries management, including for example, many species of finfish, some shellfish (surf clams, ocean quahogs, and Atlantic sea scallops), and some crustaceans (American lobsters, stone crabs, shrimp, spiny lobsters, and king and tanner crabs).
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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries lished in 1992 under the auspices of the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council. The committee's charge was to study and report on means of improving our nation's ability to manage its marine fishery resources. The objective of this report is to present recommendations while Congress considers changes in the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (MFCMA). The committee acknowledges that the report does not represent an in-depth evaluation or assessment of all of the issues relevant to the MFCMA. Rather it reflects the collective, deliberated views and recommendations of experts, who are well familiar with all aspects of the MFCMA, on how the act might be improved in the reauthorization process. The Committee on Fisheries identified the following topics to be considered for change during reauthorization: overfishing, including entry, capitalization, and the definition of optimum yield; institutional structure; the quality of fishery science and data; and an ecosystem approach to fishery management, including bycatch and fish habitats. The committee's recommendations are designed to enhance the most effective aspects of the present MFCMA and to introduce critically needed clarifications and structural improvements. Chapter 1 provides introductory material on the report. Subsequent chapters present background material on the MFCMA (Chapter 2), identify and discuss critical issues in fisheries management ( Chapter 3), and make specific recommendations for improving fishery management under the Act (Chapter 4). PREVENT OVERFISHING The MFCMA specifies in its National Standard One that the purpose of fisheries “conservation and management” is to prevent overfishing while achieving “optimum yield from each fishery for the United States fishing industry”. Furthermore, the MFCMA definition of optimum yield is based on the maximum sustainable yield modified by economic, social, or ecological factors. This definition of optimum yield is so broad that it can be applied to almost any quantity of catch. It is the committee's view that the MFCMA does not contain adequate measures to prevent harvest from reducing the stock below a level at which it can sustain maximum yield over the long term, to control entry and wasteful capitalization in order to prevent overfishing of a stock of fish, and to promote rebuilding of stocks reduced to low levels. Recommendation 1: Fishery management should promote full realization of optimum yields as originally envisioned in the MFCMA by ensuring that harvest does not reduce stock abundance below levels that can sustain maximum yields over the long term. For currently overfished stocks, harvest levels must allow rebuilding the stock over specified periods of time to a level that can support sustainable maximum yields. Any departure from the above must be supported by persuasive
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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries evidence regarding natural variability, ecosystem interdependence, sustainable national income gains, or truly exceptional socio-cultural considerations. In fishery management plans developed by a regional fishery management council or the Secretary, the realization of optimum yield for fisheries should be promoted by maintaining stock abundance at or above the maximum sustainable yield level. Specifically, when a stock is below its level of maximum biological productivity, allowable catch levels should not be increased by optimum yield adjustments but should be kept below the current replacement level to allow rebuilding of the stock over a specified period of time. This recommendation applies to single-species fisheries. Ideally, allowable catch should take into account the effect of fishing activity on each species in the ecosystem, but much of the information needed for such an approach is not yet available. For multiple-species fisheries, the allowable catch must be determined on a case-by-case basis. One important technique for achieving optimum yield is to control the number of units of gear such as vessels, traps, and nets. The MFCMA establishes guidelines for council consideration of fishing vessel restrictions and limited access systems. When unlimited entry is permitted, each fisherman increases the number and harvesting capacity of vessels and gear in order to capture the largest share of the allowed catch. The committee believes that open access to fisheries and the resulting overcapitalization are major problems that are inadequately addressed in most contemporary fisheries management. Although most of the important fisheries are now under management plans that include some form of limited entry or are considering such plans, overcapitalization is still inadequately addressed. Recommendation 2: Fishery management should control entry into and wasteful deployment of capital, labor, and equipment in marine fisheries. It is increasingly apparent that a remedy for the overfishing problem caused by open-access fisheries is to be found in some controls on entry. However, limited entry alone has not prevented and will not prevent overcapitalization or reduce the pressure to exceed acceptable biological catch levels; some form of control of fishing effort and/or total catch is also needed. To be effective, the methods used to control entry and capitalization must be responsible and equitable, and have adequate phase-in periods. IMPROVE THE INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE The committee attributes the present condition of many U.S. stocks as overutilized and depleted to inadequacies in fisheries management (see discussion in
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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries Chapter 3). A principal finding of the committee is that the lines of authority and responsibility between the Secretary of Commerce and the regional fishery management councils regarding management of marine fishery resources are unclear, and therefore confuse participants, create inefficiencies, and generate adversarial positions without a satisfactory mechanism for conflict resolution. In addition, the committee finds that except for the traditional oversight function of Congress, the present system of fisheries management lacks independent checks and balances. Recommendation 3: Congress should clarify the authority and responsibility of the Secretary of Commerce and of regional fishery management councils with respect to allocation and capitalization controls, implementation and enforcement of fisheries management plans, strategic planning, review of management decisions and actions, and conflict resolution. The committee recommends a management structure consisting of three major components: the Secretary of Commerce, as the official of the federal government; the regional fishery management councils, as legislatively provided representing regional expertise, knowledge, and interests; and an independent oversight body, as an independent advisor to the Secretary, the councils, and Congress. The oversight body should be established as an independent mechanism responsible for strategic planning, review of management decisions and actions, and conflict resolution by providing recommendations to the Secretary, the councils, and Congress (see description in Chapter 4). This structure is not envisioned as a substitute for action by other properly constituted bodies action, or for conflict resolution among entities empowered to resolve their own conflicts. The committee envisions an oversight body that should be a standing entity with stable funding appropriated by Congress, whose charge is to review and report to the Congress on performance and problems in U.S. marine fisheries under the MFCMA, as amended. Included in this charge, among other factors, might be scientific and technical issues, management goals and strategies, jurisdictional problems, and environmental and conservation concerns. At the request of either the Secretary of Commerce or a regional council, and at its sole discretion, the body may engage in ad hoc conflict resolution by considering and rendering a non-binding decision upon those in conflict, including the Secretary, the councils, and other interested parties. In order to provide that recommendations from the body are given serious consideration, federal officials should be required to respond to any recommendations within 120 days, and to explain in detail any decisions not to follow them. The regional fishery management councils should continue to bear the responsibility for allocation and capitalization controls. All councils should main-
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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries tain and use scientific and statistical committees to ensure that the “best scientific information available” is up to date and unbiased. The Secretary should continue to have the primary responsibilities for providing scientific and technical information to the councils and for implementing and enforcing approved fishery management plans, but should not be involved in the allocation process, except at the review level. The committee believes that the establishment of acceptable biological catches should be a scientific determination. This can be accomplished by having the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, state agencies, and other interested scientists provide initial views regarding appropriate levels of acceptable biological catches. Each council would be required to establish a scientific advisory committee with the responsibility for setting the acceptable biological catches. This scientific committee could be the council's scientific and statistical committee, a group drawn mainly from the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, or a separate new committee. Actual total allowable catches may, of course, be modified by adjustments to the optimum yield by council members provided that, first, maximum sustainable yield can be sustained over the long term, and second, for currently overfished stocks, the permissible harvests allow rebuilding these stocks over specified periods of time to levels that can support sustainable maximum yields. This process of determining harvest levels is, in fact, the status quo for some councils. However, such a mechanism needs to be codified so all councils will follow this procedure. Furthermore, the reports of the Scientific and Statistical Committee should be transmitted by the committee chairman to the council, NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, state agencies, the Secretary, and other interested parties as independent reports. The issues of conflict of interest and competence arise in considering restructuring of the councils. The councils should be balanced in terms of their representation, so as to include individuals knowledgeable about the various fisheries under the councils' jurisdiction. Congress should consider subjecting council members to more stringent provisions to prevent conflict of interest, but should examine the impact that such provisions might have on participation by interested parties and on the efficiency of the council decision-making process. IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF FISHERY SCIENCE AND DATA The MFCMA requires that conservation and management measures be based upon the best scientific information available. The information needed includes stock data, clear descriptions of these data and the analysis techniques applied to them, and, finally, a best estimate of stock histories and a related estimate of the reliability of the stock-assessment analysis. The information collected by the
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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service and used by the fishery management councils is frequently insufficient for making management decisions. On the biological side, some assessments rely on fishery performance information that may have so much bias and variability as to prevent accurate assessment of population condition. For many fisheries, the magnitude of bycatch/discard mortality is unknown, and consequently the effects of fishing cannot be accurately evaluated. Furthermore, insufficient information about the effects on the environment and multi-species interactions may prevent correct assessment of current and future recruitment. Recommendation 4: The Secretary of Commerce should improve the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service's scientific programs by making them responsive to management needs and to possible societal and economic effects. Improved data collection, analysis, and dissemination are needed to make evaluations and policy decisions. Better data are needed for management decision-making and fishermen are an obvious source for providing catch data. Therefore, it is the committee's view that all fishermen should be obligated by law to report their catch (including bycatch, fishing effort, and related biological information) to the program, and confidentiality must be assured. Economic information on fishermen's catch is very useful; it must be obtained by methods that provide reliable data. The information should be accessible to personnel involved in fisheries research, management, and operations. Aggregate summaries of the resulting statistics should be available to all parties. MOVE TOWARD AN ECOSYSTEM APPROACH TO FISHERY MANAGEMENT Habitats and the biota that occupy them constitute interacting systems called ecosystems. The maintenance of sufficient fish stocks depends directly on the integrity of these ecosystems. Fisheries can directly affect an ecosystem's structure through overfishing or habitat damage, and thus have the potential to alter its productivity or the quality of its products. Fisheries also can be affected by habitat alterations resulting from damage by other users or from pollution. The most serious forms of coastal degradation are the physical destruction of important habitats, water pollution, and the introduction of exotic species. These issues need to be addressed by the rules to be used in the conservation and management of fishery resources. Recommendation 5: Fishery management should increase the use of the ecosystem approach to management, and include environmental protection goals in the development of fishery management plans.
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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries Reduce Bycatch/Discard Problems An important starting point for increasing the use of an ecosystem approach to fishery management would be the implementation of multispecies management.2 A significant first step would be to incorporate bycatch/discard 3 information into fishery management decisions—in particular, to use in estimating the total mortality for specific fish stocks imposed as a result of fishing. Fishery management plans must deal with direct and indirect effects of bycatch/discards as well as with other fishery mortality not now reported for target and non-target species—including threatened and endangered species. Management plans should also include procedures designed to reduce the general wastage found in many types of fishing. The Secretary of Commerce through the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service should undertake multispecies approaches to fishery management to evaluate the need for and, if necessary, implement a formal bycatch reduction program. The bycatch reduction program should identify a set of goals involving biological, ecological, economic, and ethical concerns. Recommendation 6: The Secretary should provide adequate funding for collection of reliable discard data and for a major new fishery technology program to improve gear and fishing techniques needed to reduce the bycatch/discard problem. A bycatch incentives/disincentives program should be considered at the vessel or fleet level. The bycatch initiative should also quantify bycatch data for all major U.S. fisheries, because analysis of bycatch/discards will provide the basis for effective catch management and greatly facilitate understanding of the ecosystem components, species interactions, and multispecies management requirements. Protect Fish Habitats The stability and productivity of fish resources depend in large part on the number and environmental quality of the habitats in which fish breed, spawn, mature, and live their adult lives. Habitat alterations are perhaps the least under- 2 Multispecies management as used in this document means that all of the species of fish found together in an area are managed as a unit, insofar as possible. 3 The committee defines bycatch as discards plus incidental catch that is sold. In this report we are particularly interested in the volume and numbers of fish and other marine life that are discarded from fishing vessels and the mortality involved in these discards. The committee also recognizes that unreported mortalities often occur, e.g., (1) losses resulting from mortalities imposed on fish and other sea life escaping fishing gear, (2) losses due to ghost fishing, (3) discard of spoiled fish, and (4) unreported catch.
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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries stood of the important effects of fishing. Even the cessation of all fishing activities will not guarantee future stocks if there are inadequate habitats to support fish reproduction and growth. Nonetheless, to ensure adequate habitats to support fish stocks, some form of habitat protection is essential. Although the MFCMA allows councils to comment and make recommendations on any activity proposed by a federal or state agency that may affect the habitat of a fishery resource under a council's jurisdiction, this provision does not address the effects of fishing activities on non-target organisms, and on the physical and chemical environment. Recommendation 7: The Secretary of Commerce, through the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service and under advisement from regional fishery management councils, should be empowered to protect the habitats necessary to sustain fishery resources. A major national program should be developed to determine what habitats are critical for fish reproduction and growth, and how they can be protected. The recommended program would bring the problem of degradation of fish habitats to national attention, and would provide a means of coordinating measures to achieve adequate protection. The more a fishery depends on riverine and coastal environments, the more critical is the habitat issue. Two early tasks would be to define the environmental components essential for survival and production of populations affected by the fisheries, and to identify and understand current causes of habitat degradation.
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