1

Introduction

Marine fish, shellfish, crustaceans, and plants are living renewable resources of vital importance to the nation, and sound management practices are required to ensure their long-term sustainability. Fish are major components of marine food webs, serving as predators on plankton and other fish, as well as food for marine mammals; an intact food web is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Fish are also a significant source of protein in human and animal diets; the health benefits of eating fish are becoming increasingly apparent to U.S. consumers. Fishing provides a commercial livelihood on all U.S. coasts, and offers recreational opportunities for millions of Americans.

The United States has abundant fishery resources1 within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EEZ, which extends 200 miles offshore of U.S. coastal states and territories, contains both finfish and shellfish of considerable value. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, in 1991 domestic commercial fisheries had a total impact (direct, indirect, and induced) on the U.S. Gross National Product of more than $50 billion.2

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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).

2  

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 1 Introduction Marine fish, shellfish, crustaceans, and plants are living renewable resources of vital importance to the nation, and sound management practices are required to ensure their long-term sustainability. Fish are major components of marine food webs, serving as predators on plankton and other fish, as well as food for marine mammals; an intact food web is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Fish are also a significant source of protein in human and animal diets; the health benefits of eating fish are becoming increasingly apparent to U.S. consumers. Fishing provides a commercial livelihood on all U.S. coasts, and offers recreational opportunities for millions of Americans. The United States has abundant fishery resources1 within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EEZ, which extends 200 miles offshore of U.S. coastal states and territories, contains both finfish and shellfish of considerable value. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, in 1991 domestic commercial fisheries had a total impact (direct, indirect, and induced) on the U.S. Gross National Product of more than $50 billion.2 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). 2   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 The value of fisheries also accrues to a wide range of industries that directly or indirectly benefit from fishing activities, through a multiplier effect. Value is added, for example, as fish pass from harvest vessel to restaurant. Also, approximately 17 million people participated in U.S. recreational marine fishing in 1991. Sales of recreational tackle, rental of charter boats, and other fishing-related expenditures all add to local and national economies. Economists also recognize other tangible and intangible value measures, such as “the recreational experience,” that cannot easily be defined in terms of their monetary value or their contribution to the U.S. Gross National Product. Today, after 17 years of comprehensive federal fisheries management, the viability of many resources and associated industries is not yet secure. A number of marine fish resources adjacent to our nation are overexploited, and fisheries management has become more complex with the added regulations requiring protection of certain species of marine mammals, turtles, and birds. Extended environmental and natural resource legislation has given additional responsibilities to MFCMA managers. Furthermore, allocation disputes between domestic users have increased since the phase-out of foreign fisheries. Clearly, the overall goal of public policy for marine fisheries cannot be simply the maximization of revenues to the fishing industries or of benefits to any single user group. Policy must be concerned with the conservation and future availability of fish stocks, elimination of waste, maintenance of productive ecosystems, and equitable distribution of the resources between user groups. A variety of fishery-resource values must be considered, including those of cultural and recreational fishing and the desire to protect marine mammals, turtles, and other vulnerable species. In short, public policy must be concerned with the ecosystem. To achieve these goals requires effective management, minimization of waste, and conservation of species and critical habitats. The challenges to effective fisheries management are enormous: pressure on the stocks; intense user-group conflicts; loss or degradation of critical habitat; conflicts among state and federal managers in decision-making; lack of coordination of management and conservation between these fishery resources within and those outside of U.S. jurisdiction; and complex and fragmented harvesting, processing, and marketing sectors. To achieve maximum benefit from fisheries resources it is necessary to find means to balance the pursuit of various benefits by many participants. Because the resources and the ecosystems of which they are part are so complex, and because so many individuals, groups, and entities in the private and public sectors have a stake in management outcomes, achievement of significant progress will require an integrating theme and national policy that can focus the interests of all participants on the same goals. Reauthorization of the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (MFCMA), the law governing fisheries management, provides an opportunity to make changes that will improve our management capabilities. To

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Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries assess the effectiveness of the present U.S. fisheries management, a Committee on Fisheries was established 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. Subsequent chapters present background material on the MFCMA (Chapter 2), identify and discuss critical issues in current fishery management (Chapter 3), and make specific recommendations for improving fishery management under the MFCMA (Chapter 4).