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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.
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-