3

Critical Issues in Fishery Management

As mentioned in Chapter 2, one of the stated purposes of the MFCMA is to conserve and manage U.S. fishery resources. Overall, fisheries management in the United States has not achieved the conservation of fish stocks that was anticipated when the FCMA was passed in 1976. This assertion is supported by the findings in a 1990 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation study which reported that one-third of all stocks under council management were, at that time, less abundant than they had been before the councils assumed jurisdiction. In addition, a 1992 NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service report, Our Living Oceans,1 estimated that of the 236 species whose status was reviewed, 67 species were over-utilized, 61 as fully utilized, and 28 as under-utilized. The data were inadequate to determine the status of the 80 other species. The information from these reports supports the committee 's view that changes in approach to the nation's stewardship of its living resources are essential for achieving fisheries that are sustainable in the long term.

In addition to the expertise of individual committee members, the committee obtained additional background information for its assessment of fisheries management performance. The committee reviewed numerous reports on fisheries management (see listing in Appendix 1); received briefings about federal fisheries research and management programs from agency representatives, including staff from the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, the NOAA's

1  

Our Living Oceans, 1992. U.S. Department of Commerce. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.



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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries 3 Critical Issues in Fishery Management As mentioned in Chapter 2, one of the stated purposes of the MFCMA is to conserve and manage U.S. fishery resources. Overall, fisheries management in the United States has not achieved the conservation of fish stocks that was anticipated when the FCMA was passed in 1976. This assertion is supported by the findings in a 1990 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation study which reported that one-third of all stocks under council management were, at that time, less abundant than they had been before the councils assumed jurisdiction. In addition, a 1992 NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service report, Our Living Oceans,1 estimated that of the 236 species whose status was reviewed, 67 species were over-utilized, 61 as fully utilized, and 28 as under-utilized. The data were inadequate to determine the status of the 80 other species. The information from these reports supports the committee 's view that changes in approach to the nation's stewardship of its living resources are essential for achieving fisheries that are sustainable in the long term. In addition to the expertise of individual committee members, the committee obtained additional background information for its assessment of fisheries management performance. The committee reviewed numerous reports on fisheries management (see listing in Appendix 1); received briefings about federal fisheries research and management programs from agency representatives, including staff from the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, the NOAA's 1   Our Living Oceans, 1992. U.S. Department of Commerce. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries Sea Grant program, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; heard presentations about critical fisheries issues from a wide range of fisheries experts who were invited to committee meetings, including representatives of commercial and recreational fishing industries, federal and state fisheries managers, environmental organization representatives, and congressional staff; and participated in a national debate on the MFCMA while attending the National Symposium on Conserving America's Fisheries held in New Orleans March 8-10, 1993. The committee also met in Galveston, Texas and Solomons, Maryland to solicit input on regionally important issues. After reviewing the background information, the committee has noted a number of inadequacies in fisheries conservation and management that have contributed to the present condition of U.S. fish stocks. These inadequacies include not only failures to identify and regulate the development and growth of fishing industries, but also failures to reduce fishing capacity and effort in response to conservation needs and environmental changes. Consequently, stocks are overutilized and depleted, and are not allowed to recover. Often, political pressure for absolute certainty about the status of an overexploited population deters managers from taking prompt remedial action. Unfortunately, such certainty is rarely attainable under present conditions, given the limited resources available to managers and scientists, the lack of adequate fishery data for the assessment of stocks and the effects of fishing mortality, and the lack of proper statistical treatment of uncertainty. Additional factors contributing to inadequate management and conservation actions include a lack of understanding of, or the information on, what features and processes at the ecosystem level are important to fisheries management; an unwillingness to plan or respond to relevant information on the fishery ecosystem; and/or a failure of managers to adequately define the attributes of an ecosystem that can and should be managed. For the purposes of this report, the committee identified four topics that need to be addressed during reauthorization if U.S. fisheries management and conservation efforts are to be successful. These topics are overfishing, including the related issues of entry, capitalization, and the definition of optimum yield; the institutional structure for fisheries management; the quality of fishery science and data; and ecosystem approaches to fishery management, including the issues of bycatch and fish habitats. The remainder of this chapter discusses the problems associated with these topics, and Chapter 4 suggests how inadequacies in these four areas, which have contributed to failures in marine fisheries management, might be rectified through legislative changes. OVERFISHING Fisheries management plans are, in theory, designed to include a variety of mechanisms that balance the obligations of sustaining fish stocks and providing opportunities for fishing, while achieving various biological, ecological, eco-

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries nomic, and social goals. Fishery plans can use total allowable catch levels, limited entry, fishing seasons, minimum catch sizes, gear restrictions, and other limitations to achieve such a balance. Unfortunately, they have not balanced conservation and use effectively. Even with the allocative mechanisms mentioned above, the problems of overfishing, which have been exacerbated by technological improvement of gear and harvesting techniques, have not been eliminated. Overfishing can affect productivity in two basic ways: first, by removing too many reproductively mature adults (decreasing recruitment), and second, by removing too many young organisms (reducing the yield that can be expected from a given number of recruits). Removal can occur both through intentional fishing activities targeted at a species and through bycatch/discards in the complex of fisheries active in a region. In addition, stress caused by degradation of the environment required by the species can reduce the sustainable removal levels. Under appropriate environmental conditions, most fish stocks will produce a biological surplus in excess of that needed to maintain stock equilibrium, and thus, a sustainable yield. Fishing and other forms of stress decrease the reproductive output of each recruit: i.e., spawning per recruit decreases monotonically. Stress resulting from the depletion or removal of one species can affect populations of other interacting species in that ecosystem, thus altering community structure. Two primary solutions to the overfishing problem are discussed below: the definition of optimum yield; and the control of fishing effort, including the aspects of entry and capitalization. These areas must be addressed in the MFCMA reauthorization in order to provide for sustainable fisheries. Optimum Yield2 One reason that overfishing occurs is the definition of optimum yield specified in the MFCMA. MFCMA Section 301(a)(1); 16 U.S.C. 1851 (a)(1), the national standard relating to prevention of overfishing and achievement of optimum yield, states that the purpose of conservation and management is to prevent overfishing while achieving optimum yield from each fishery for the United States fishing industry.3 Nearly all of the specific criteria set forth in Title III of 2   In this report, optimum yield refers to the biological optimum unless otherwise specified. In the MFCMA, optimum yield is not specified in biological or economic terms. 3   The MFCMA offers certain limited exceptions (Section 301(b)) to its requirement of preventing overfishing. “Harvesting the major component of a mixed fishery at its optimum level may result in the overfishing of a minor (smaller or less valuable) stock component in the fishery. A council may decide to permit this type of overfishing if it is demonstrated by analysis (paragraph (f)(5) of this section) that it will result in net benefits to the Nation, and if the council 's action will not cause any stock to require protection under the Endangered Species Act.”

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries the MFCMA are designed to ensure that catch is limited to the optimum yield. The optimum-yield concept has been criticized, however, for its failure to establish adequate usable guidelines for decision-making. To the extent that there has been explicit acceptance of the concept of optimum yield, it has frequently been used as an excuse for exceeding the maximum sustainable yield.4 Optimum yield is defined in MFCMA Section 3 (21) as “the amount of fish a) which will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, with particular reference to food production and recreational opportunities; and b) which is prescribed as such on the basis of the maximum sustainable yield from such fishery, as modified by any relevant economic, social, or ecological factor.” Unfortunately, this definition is so broad that it can be used to justify almost any quantity of catch. Consequently, an “optimum yield” might easily conflict with conservation goals. The implementing regulations, known as the “ 602 guidelines,” do not provide the specification and guidance needed. It is clear that there are two often mutually exclusive issues involved in trying to achieve “optimum yield.” One issue is a concern for biological overexploitation of fishery resources; the second is a concern for attaining economic efficiency as moderated by social concerns. Each council is required by law to assess and specify the maximum sustainable yield and the optimum yield in any fishery management plan under its jurisdiction. The optimum yield figure sets the upper limit of allowed harvest in each fishery, including both domestic and foreign fishing allowed in the EEZ. Typically, political and social pressures are exerted on councils; scientific uncertainty due to inadequate information and to a lack of consensus about what the data indicate weaken scientific input and lessen the weight given to the biological component; complexity of ecological systems makes achievement of optimal levels a trial-and-error process; and large natural variability often masks overexploitation until it is too late. Some councils are therefore taking the more conservative approach of setting “effective total harvest” levels (including directed catch and discards) and “overfishing” levels (developed from species-specific exploitation rates), which ensures that the spawning biomass will be adequate to produce populations near maximum sustainable yield, rather than managing directly for maximum sustainable yield. While a move in the right direction, this approach still fails to account for ecosystem requirements adequately. 4   Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) from a fishery is the largest annual catch or yield in terms of weight of fish caught by both commercial and recreational fishermen that can be taken continuously from a stock under existing environmental conditions. A determination of MSY, which should be an estimate based upon the best scientific information available, is a biological measure necessary in the development of optimum yield (p. 110 in Fisheries of the United States, 1991, National Marine Fisheries Service).

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries Entry and Capitalization The political and socio-economic pressures that propelled the growth, expansion, and overcapitalization of distant-water fleets continue to shape fishery development and management policies. Overcapitalization, a shorthand term used here and elsewhere throughout the report, means excessive private expenditures for boats, labor, and other resources required for fishing. Overcapitalization can be encouraged by free access to public stocks because there is an incentive for individual fishermen to maximize their share of the permissible harvest. Excess capacity creates political pressure for an increased harvest quota. If this policy continues, species other than the targeted fish may also be negatively affected, and ultimately the structure of a whole ecosystem may be affected. 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. All of the allowable catch is then harvested early in the fishing season, and the excess capacity of fishermen, vessels, and processing capacity either remain idle or are redirected to other fisheries, exacerbating pressure on them. In extreme cases (for example, the Alaskan longline halibut fishery 5) the annual fishing season, disparagingly referred to as a derby, has been reduced to a few days, and fresh fish are available to consumers for only a short period of time. MFCMA Section 303(b) (4,6) now establishes guidelines for councils ' consideration of fishing vessel restrictions and limited access systems. Limitations on entry are expressly authorized “in order to achieve optimum yield,” although National Standard Five specifies that economic allocation cannot be the sole purpose of a conservation and management measure. However, the MFCMA offers little direction to the councils or the Secretary as to whether the nature and scope of limited-entry or other allocative programs create property or quasi-property rights. The one legal case that has been decided in this area upholds the broad discretion of the councils and the Secretary in establishing limited-entry schemes.6 Possible mechanisms for limiting entry include: license limitations—i.e., restricting fishing rights to a group of identified license holders; assignment of annual harvesting rights usually for specific quantities of catch (including individual fishing quotas (IFQs), individual transferable quotas (ITQs), enterprise allocations, or share quotas) but sometimes for effort units such as days of fishing; 5   Note that the derby-style halibut fishery will end in 1994 because the council has voted to adopt a new management plan. 6   Sea Watch International, Ltd. v. Mosbacher, 762F. Supp. 370 (D.D.C. 1991).

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries selective charges on landings of fish or taxes on vessels, so as to discourage new entry and encourage exit; assignment of full property rights; and reservation of fishery resources to a public enterprise. License limitations are being used in the Hawaiian Islands pelagic longline fishery and Alaskan salmon fishery in the United States, as well as elsewhere throughout the world. This form of restricted entry also requires an overall catch quota—or, an in-season run assessment in the case of salmon—because it is rarely possible to foresee the imaginative means harvesters may employ to increase their rate of catch. However, the problem of overcapitalization remains, and the race to catch fish faster continues. Individual fishing quotas and individual transferable quotas have been implemented in fisheries throughout the world and in a few U.S. fisheries, such as the Mid-Atlantic surf clam fishery. In many instances an individual quota system succeeds because catch does not exceed the desired objective, economic waste (including overcapitalization) is greatly reduced, and product quality is substantially enhanced. Individual quota systems, once introduced, have been amended and revised but never rescinded, to the committee's knowledge. Experience with individual quotas where they have been introduced indicates some or all of the following concerns must be addressed for higher benefits to conservation and society to be realized: preventing overconcentration of the quotas; effectively discouraging the practices of bycatch discard and highgrading (keeping only the larger, more valuable fish); providing opportunities for future entrants to a sustainably managed fishery through future quota reserves or other means; ensuring certainty of tenure in order to reduce risk created by ambiguities in the legal fabric; preserving and promoting the economy and way of life of coastal fishing villages;7 addressing distributional or equity issues that arise with the disposition of access rights to a public resource in a manner that bestows potentially large windfall profits on the initial private recipients of the newly created marketable privileges; and ensuring that, at least initially, any increases in administration and enforcement costs necessary for a successful transition to, and implementation of, large-scale individual quota systems is adequately funded by the owners of quotas and/or increased budget allocation for the agency. Expanded enforcement of individual fishing quotas is a critical component of this management technique. At present, only license limitations and allocation of individual quotas are available in the United States under the MFCMA. Under either form of restricted entry, the collection of resource rentals (which could address both distribu- 7   In the North Pacific, for example, community development quotas (CDQs) are allocated to fishing organizations identified by local communities.

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries tional and equity questions and implementation cost problems) is currently prohibited under the Act. Charges on landings or taxes on vessels at levels that make entry unprofitable is a third feasible option, often advocated by economists but less frequently adopted, perhaps because of political opposition. However, charges would have to be set at reasonable amounts initially so as not to jeopardize the security of existing participants' businesses. The last two limited-entry schemes are more novel. The first resembles a regulated monopoly in which full property rights, including determination of sustained stock and harvest levels, are assigned to a single management entity. This option may be less attractive when stocks migrate and biological interdependence with other valuable species is critical. In this case, the public must be assured that the monopolist is regulated in consonance with public values, and that the monopolist properly accounts for its effects on the larger biological system. However, regulated sole owners tend to keep monitoring and enforcement costs low by their nature, and they do not wantonly discard the fish they “own.” The second limited-entry scheme transfers harvesting rights to a public enterprise. This option may be less attractive because the jurisdiction of the public enterprise is unlikely to cover all the geographic ranges of the species and their prey and predators. A town or cooperative, for example, could allocate the harvesting rights in a manner which best suits its goals. Expensive monitoring and enforcement can be carried out at lower cost when cultural and other non-economic relationships among the individual holders induce greater conformance to the harvesting regulations. INSTITUTIONAL STRUCTURE To implement its purposes, the Act provided for the establishment of eight regional fishery management councils, each with the task of developing fishery management plans that would meet the national standards. The eight councils, working in conjunction with the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, have made substantial progress in implementing the existing MFCMA. As of September 1, 1993, 33 fishery management plans are in effect and a number of others are in various stages of preparation. Council memberships are drawn from states adjacent to the ocean region being managed, with the exception of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which at present provides voting representation from Washington and Oregon for fisheries conducted off Alaska. The 1990 amendments to the MFCMA require that the voting council members nominated by state governors be individuals who “by reason of their occupational or other experience, scientific expertise, or training, are knowledgeable regarding the conservation and management of the commercial or recreational harvest of the fishery resources of the geographical area concerned. ” In addition to voting members, whose numbers

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries may differ among councils, each council has a specified number of non-voting members who provide additional expertise and coordination when council decisions affect other states or federal agencies. The committee supports a legislative instruction that councils include members who are knowledgeable and/or experienced in matters being discussed and decided, whether or not such persons have a direct or indirect financial interest in the outcome. Regrettably, such a process raises the twin specter of conflict of interest and self-regulation in the public disinterest. The present conditional exemption in MFCMA Section 1852(k)(7) from the federal conflict-of-interest law (18 USC Section 208) only sharpens and lends reality to that image, as does the blanket exemption from the Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 USC App. 2). Valid or not, such perceptions cloud council credibility. In an era of intense public scrutiny, public challenges to council action can readily be launched, thereby impairing council effectiveness. Clearly, there is a need to reduce such risks and thus enhance council productivity. The process for developing, approving, and implementing a fishery management plan needs to be improved. The speed of the implementation process is important because fisheries generally cannot be regulated if a management plan is not is place, and lack of a plan can allow over-capitalization and over-harvest. The MFCMA currently provides two procedures for establishing and implementing fishery management plans. The usual procedure entails the development of a plan (with alternatives) by a council, a public review process, and review and approval by the Secretary of Commerce of all or part of the plan. This process can require several years. The other procedure entails giving the Secretary of Commerce the authority to impose emergency actions, but these actions are limited in duration to 90 days, and only one renewal is possible. A council's management plan cannot be approved unless it has been subjected to a process of public review. Therefore, an initial plan needs to contain a wide range of options, to avoid the necessity of re-initiating the review process or reverting to emergency action by the Secretary of Commerce, if none of the originally proposed options is acceptable. Existing plans can be amended as conditions warrant; however, they are subject to the same lengthy review process as that for developing a new plan. A controversial amendment can take several years to complete the approval process and thus cannot respond to an immediate issue. The regional fishery management councils are required by Section 302 (g) to establish and maintain scientific and statistical committees, but the use of these committees varies. For example, the committee notes that the Pacific councils regularly use their scientific and statistical committees while the New England and the Mid-Atlantic councils do not. Inadequate committee use needs to be addressed. Some councils maintain scientific and statistical committees and advisory panels that have been effective and independent sources of scientific advice. Other councils maintain these committees, but do not use them effectively.

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries The MFCMA specifies the tasks of the Secretary of Commerce in developing fishery management plans that meet the national standards; these include establishing guidelines for the development of fishery management plans, reviewing and approving the fishery management plans, implementing approved plans, and appointing the voting council members. In addition, the Secretary is responsible for administering the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service. Also, among the Secretary's responsibilities are a number of fishery-relevant programs, including stock assessment, data collection and analyses, enforcement, and judicial review (administrative-law judges). There is currently no entity specifically charged with overseeing the implementation of the MFCMA and reporting to Congress. Congress itself has functioned in this capacity in part through the General Accounting Office and mostly through congressional approval processes. In general, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, performs a variety of services, the most well-known of which are independent audits and evaluations of government programs and activities. The General Accounting Office has reported to Congress on a few very specific fisheries-related issues in response to congressional requests, for example in 1991, they reported on the foreign investment in the seafood processing industry in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. 8 Congressional approval processes are not appropriate for fishery management issues because of the technical and scientific complexity of these issues, the fact that management must operate within many applicable laws (ESA, MMPA, CWA, CZMA, MPRSA, and NEPA),9 the jurisdictional limits of existing congressional committees, and the intersection of federal fishery management with state regulatory bodies, including interstate commissions and compacts. State policies and regulations vary widely. For example, some states ban commercial fishing of certain species; others require recreational saltwater fishing licenses. Most regulations developed by regional interstate fisheries commissions are voluntary (with the notable exception of Atlantic striped bass regulations, which have the force of a federal moratorium imposed in the waters of those states that do not comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's regulations). Some form of independent mechanism is needed to address the issues of adequate oversight of management and implementation of the MFCMA, resolution of conflict involving objection to specific management measures and/or actions, and development of long-term strategic planning for securing the future viability of U.S. fish stocks and the U.S. fishing industry. 8   United States General Accounting Office. 1991. Seafood Processing, Foreign Ownership of Facilities in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. GAO/RCED-91-127. 22 pp. 9   The Endangered Species Act; Marine Mammal Protection Act; Clean Water Act; Coastal Zone Management Act; Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act; and National Environmental Policy Act, respectively.

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries QUALITY OF FISHERY SCIENCE AND DATA MFCMA Section 301 (a)(2) includes the national standard requiring conservation and management measures to be based upon the best scientific information available. To use the best available science implies that management decisions will be scientifically based, will use the information that is available, and will contribute to the science necessary to make better decisions. The backbone of fishery management plans is the stock assessment, since it provides the most recent account of the status of fish stocks for use by the managers. Research and survey efforts related to stock assessment are crucial for ensuring that the best scientific information available is adequate for producing effective fishery management plans. At present, this is accomplished through routine analysis by and operation of the National Fisheries Statistics program. The NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service regional science centers and regional offices are routinely involved in the processing of the fishery, survey, and biological information necessary for stock assessments. Personnel at the science centers perform most stock assessments and some participate in Council Fishery Management Plan Teams and Scientific and Statistical Committees. The NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service must be given credit for its efforts to improve assessments by convening a National Stock Assessment Committee and participating in workshops and symposia throughout the country. Major advances in methodology have occurred over the last few years. The information collected by the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service is frequently insufficient for making management decisions. For example, some assessments for the biological data rely on fishery performance information that may have bias and variability large enough to prevent accurate assessment of a population's condition. Even when fishery-independent information from the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service or state research surveys is available, it may not be adequate for assessing particular species. Another example is that for many fisheries, the magnitude of bycatch mortality is unknown, preventing accurate assessment of stock reduction due to fishing activities. Furthermore, insufficient information about the effects of the environment and multi-species interactions may prevent accurate assessment of current and future recruitment. Councils also make decisions about management actions in light of the socio-economic effects of these actions. Frequently, insufficient economic and sociological information exists to permit accurate determination of these effects, due to lack of data on fishing costs, supply and demand relationships, and effects on employment and micro- and macro-economic impacts and other distributional effects as described within the new Executive Order 12866 (see Appendix 2). This condition is exacerbated by the reluctance of harvesters to provide economic data and by the inability of economists to analyze individual data due to legal protection of privacy. Information about the status of changing stock populations will always reflect a degree of uncertainty. Fishery management decisions must be made in

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries the absence of perfect information. In all circumstances, it is essential that managers weigh the costs and benefits—and risks—of alternate actions, and of lack of action as well. When there is significant risk of serious consequences that may be reversible only over the long term, and the best scientific evidence available is inadequate, precautionary measures such as moratoria, effort reductions, area closures, time limits, and gear restrictions may be needed. The costs and benefits of such measures needs to be assessed in relation to the costs and benefits of alternative measures, including those of doing nothing. Study of the role of uncertain information in population assessments is in its infancy. The NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service has recently convened workshops on risk assessment and the effects of uncertainty on decision-making, and two symposia, one convened by Canada Fisheries and Oceans and one by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, have addressed this issue. However, risk analysis has not yet been routinely incorporated into stock assessment, and greater efforts along these lines are needed. Overall, national leadership is needed in the various federal and state programs for collection, storage, and dissemination of biological, fishing, and economic data; development of operational alternative plans and options for specific and general fisheries with expected outcomes; development of new stock assessment and management techniques; design of measurement models to achieve a better understanding of the interconnection between the ocean environment and fish stock variability; and data aspects of programs for improved gear development and habitat protection. The NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service should provide such leadership in these specified areas to other agencies with programs involving fisheries research and data, including federal natural resource agencies, state fisheries agencies, and interstate fisheries commissions. In addition, another part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, namely the National Sea Grant Program, supports coastal fisheries research, including such aspects as management, development of fishing technology, and sampling for management data. The NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service should seek to identify and coordinate their programs with existing programs to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. It has long been recognized that the most appropriate mix of fisheries science should include not only catch and biological information pertaining to the species being fished, but also relevant information on life history, behavior, and ecology. Although a number of assessments and management recommendations have been made on the basis of such broadly based information and approaches, most have relied on single-species assessments without regard to ecological con-

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries text. Single-species models will continue to be a key element in making decisions on harvest rates, as indeed they should. However, this should not deter fishery managers from increasing the breadth of ecological and environmental information to be collected and applying ecological approaches to fishery management decision-making. Such an approach would result in the availability of more comprehensive and better scientific management decisions. Furthermore, the committee is acutely aware of the growing concerns regarding management under uncertainty, its linkages to biological and socio-economic inputs, and the interface between science and policy. Following the passage of the MFCMA, most science centers of the NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service became increasingly engrossed in the development and analysis of databases concerned with the state of exploited marine resources. Committee members recognize the manager's need for scientific information on the status of exploited marine resources, but at the same time, note that a reasonable, balanced science program should allow for increased exploration of environmental and biological information that can augment fishery management decision-making. It is understood that inherent uncertainties in dynamics of natural systems will always limit the effectiveness of the continued search for increasing precision. There are some funding issues that the committee believes are important. Current funds are insufficient for conducting appropriate stock assessment surveys. In addition, the necessity of funding observer programs to collect bycatch/discard information is paramount. Finally, in some situations, both the personnel and time required to process information collected for management purposes are lacking, resulting in long delays in getting the needed information to the fishery managers. ECOSYSTEM APPROACH TO FISHERY MANAGEMENT Biological 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 removals 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. Overfishing and habitat damage need to be addressed by the fishery conservation and management rules. Healthy fish populations are a good index of the health of an ecosystem because fish depend on the continued well-being of many ecosystem components. Recognition of the importance of the environments on which fish stocks depend will require fishery management to expand into the arena of ecosystem

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries conservation and protection. A fishery ecosystem is the network of feedbacks between the fish of interest and the biotic and abiotic environment essential to its well-being and productivity. Major losses of fishery resources may already have resulted from overexploitation and human-induced changes in habitat. In the long term, it is not possible to conserve and manage fisheries without including ecosystem-level analyses. Long-term fishery research, management, and conservation will require knowledge, responsibilities, and decisions at an ecosystem level. Fisheries scientists and managers have given virtually no consideration to consequences of removing target species on the structure, dynamics, and productivity of the ecosystem of which the target species are a component. Decreases in the populations of both target and bycaught species may change food-web relationships at many levels. Such effects have been observed in benthic and demersal systems that have been altered by heavy fishing of important predators. In a few situations the non-marketed discarded species are ones known to have been overfished. In a fishery ecosystem, the interdependency between species (including target and non-target species) and their habitats, requires that fishery managers address critical issues for both of these components in order to provide for effective conservation and management. In particular, the removal of species through bycatch/discard practices and the degradation of habitats are issues of immediate concern in fishery management. Bycatch/Discard10 Bycatch is the capture of species or sizes other than those designated as target species. Some portion of the bycatch may be sold; other portions may be discarded. In this report, discard refers to the portion of the bycatch that is not retained for sale, but rather is discarded. For some fisheries, discard of bycatch may result in considerable waste. There is some data that demonstrates that overutilized target species suffer from high bycatch levels and in some instances, levels so high that they exceed reported landed catches; however, there is a lack of quantitative data on bycatch and its direct and indirect effects. Bycatch is a particularly acute problem when species such as marine mammals, turtles, and birds, or fish like sharks and rays that have exceptionally low reproductive rates, are taken because they may be more easily affected even when bycatch/discard rates are low. Most fisheries (and the applicable management plans) focus on 10   In this report the committee is 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 species with relatively high reproductive rates, yet these fisheries at times take and discard species with relatively low reproductive rates. However, it is also true that discarding of high-fecundity species has also been shown to produce high mortality levels, e.g. greater than 0.8 mortality in younger age classes. Managers need to identify and determine the levels of discard mortalities and take appropriate conservation actions. Although some discards consist of species having little commercial value, other discards involve species or sizes or sexes of species important to other users or useful to the same fisheries at later times. The extent of bycatch problems varies from one fishery to another by area and time, but virtually all types of fishing gear catch some individuals of non-target species. Disposal at sea of incidentally caught organisms and fish-processing wastes can cause significant changes in the behavior, distribution, and abundance of scavenging species. For example, the nesting behavior of birds may be affected, resulting in unnatural population changes.11 The discarded organic material itself can have very significant and long-lasting effects, such as altering the species composition of natural benthic predators by selecting for highly mobile species such as crabs or fish rather than sea stars, smothering or altering suspension-feeding communities in favor of deposit-feeding associations, covering nursery grounds, and in some cases causing local depletion of oxygen. Thus, both target and non-target species and the species they interact with are affected by heavy fishing. Discard studies should focus on the quantifications of the total mortalities imposed as the result of fishing including discard mortality, unobserved fishing mortality,12 ghost fishing, and unreported waste.13 Fish Habitats Human activities have often altered habitats important for sustaining fishery resources. Coastal degradation frequently has very serious impacts on fisheries, and measures to rehabilitate damaged ecosystems need to be included in regional coastal-zone management plans. The most serious forms of coastal degradation are those that involve the destruction of important habitats such as coastal wetlands, bays, coral reefs, oyster beds, deep-water coral forests, kelp forests, benthic areas serving as larval nurseries, and in particular river systems with anadromous stocks. In many areas habitats are severely affected by pollution, including nutrient loading from point and non-point source discharge, agricultural runoff, and aquaculture; dumped foreign substances such as toxic material, dredge spoils, 11   Bailey, R.S. 1991. Interactions Between Fisheries, Fish Stocks and Seabird Populations - a Case History at Shetland. ICES Study Group on Ecosystem Effects of Fishing Activities 11-15 March 1991. 12   Mortalities resulting from wounded fish that escape from nets and hooks. 13   Catch of a quality unacceptable to buyers.

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries or oil spills; thermal discharges; and excessive light and noise. Finally, the introduction of exotic species, or of man-made structures such as artificial reefs that modify beach sand budgets, also alter habitats of both target and non-target species. Habitat alteration by the fishing activities themselves is perhaps the least understood of the important environmental effects of fishing. Alterations to resource habitats due to fishing may result from the loss of habitats of non-target species, such as species encrusting cobbles, or of other epibenthic habitats, which may be important nursery areas for juvenile fish; from the alteration of nutrient levels and bottom sediment, including destruction of habitat by bottom trawling, dredging, and other fishing and processing operations; and from the generation of suspended debris that can have lethal effects long after fishing activities have ceased. Currently, fishery habitat concerns can be addressed under Section 302(i) of the MFCMA, which 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 its jurisdiction. A more proactive means of preserving habitat important to fishes is needed that can prevent incremental loses of these habitats by a multitude of little changes.