Protecting US marine resources

03 Jun 2010
Schwaab: Fisheries have been vital to the prosperity of US coastal communities for centuries.

Schwaab: Fisheries have been vital to the prosperity of US coastal communities for centuries.

WF: How are you planning to implement  policies such as catch shares, which seem to have sparked significant controversy in the US fishing industry

ES: Catch share programmes, which include individual fishing quotas and limited access privilege programmes, have operated successfully in the United States since 1990. Right now, there are 13 different programmes operating from Alaska to Florida.

NOAA is strongly committed to the success of catch share programmes where local fishing managers and our scientists believe they can work.

Catch share programmes help eliminate overfishing and stabilise fisheries. Under traditional fishery management, fishermen compete for a total allowable catch (TAC), which has led to fishermen racing each other to catch as many fish as they can before the catch limit is reached.

This race to fish has also resulted in more boats and gear than is necessary or economical, quotas being exceeded, increasingly shorter fishing seasons, unsafe fishing and high levels of bycatch. This type of management system can also result in too many fish being brought to market at once, which depresses the value of fish for fishermen and coastal communities.

Because their share is secure under catch share programmes, fishermen plan their business to take advantage of good weather, markets and other business considerations and tend to be more selective about when and how they catch their allotment. Fishermen gain a stronger incentive to rebuild the stock, and as a fish stock rebuilds, a catch share becomes more valuable.

Because of these advantages, we believe that more fishermen over time will chose catch share systems.

 

WF: The recent fisheries rally in Washington, DC, demanded revision of the 10-year all stocks rebuilding requirement of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, in general, and in particular to stop allegedly unwarranted and unnecessary fishing restrictions, such as the red snapper ban, or reductions in the catch of Atlantic herring. Can a compromise be found between NOAA’s position and the industry’s demands?

ES: NOAA continues to work closely with all of our partners, including commercial and recreational fishers, the states, the Fishery Management Councils, political officials and organisations to manage our country’s marine resources. As I said in my statement after the DC rally, marine fish and fisheries have been vital to the prosperity of this nation’s coastal communities for hundreds of years.

Today, however, more than 20% of the nation’s fish stocks are overfished and need to be rebuilt to larger, healthier populations so that they can produce their full economic potential and provide other important benefits for fishermen, coastal communities and the nation. But we have to work together. Change is not easy.

I understand the concern with the 10-year rebuilding time frames in Magnuson. However, I believe Magnuson already contains some of the flexibility we need by allowing certain exceptions based on biology and other issues. Balancing rebuilding for the long-term health of coastal communities with the immediate economic effects remains a challenge for everyone involved in implementing the act’s mandate to end overfishing and rebuild stocks.

 

WF: What would be the follow-up to the Department of Interior’s Inspector General’s criticism of NMFS’ enforcement?

ES: In response to a January review of the Commerce Department Inspector General, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco recently outlined specific steps the agency has taken and will take to assure that NOAA has an effective and fair enforcement program.

And while we strive for transparency in our process and to ensure fair treatment, we also know that an effective programme is essential if we are to protect fisheries and other marine resources that sustain the jobs and economic vibrancy of America’s coastal communities.

Dr Lubchenco requested a review of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement programmes soon after she was named to head NOAA in 2009.

Our action plan includes a number of key elements, including improved efforts to set enforcement priorities; new policies and procedures regarding enforcement approaches and setting fines and other penalties; a thorough review of our workforce planning and deployment efforts; and improved communications with fishermen and others.

The steps we’ve taken, along with those we’ll implement as we move forward, will go a long way toward protecting our nation’s marine resources through the enforcement of fair, well understood, and effective regulations.


WF: The industry complains that while the available science is inadequate, funds have been shifted recently from Research and Cooperative Research to the catch shares scheme. What’s your position/explanation?

ES: The President’s fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget requests a total of $54 million (€42 million) to accelerate and enhance the implementation of catch shares nationwide. The request supports analysis and evaluation of fisheries for catch share programmes, development of fishery management plans and regulations, observing and monitoring at sea and on shore, and enforcement activities.

This catch share funding is not requested at the expense of other fisheries research and management programs. The FY 2011 budget sustains funding for Fisheries Research and Management and adds to investments to implement the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act.

The National Marine Fisheries Service Operations, Research, and Facilities budget request increased from $724.2 million (€563.8 million) in fiscal year 2009 to $907.8 million (€706.5 million) in FY 2011; this $183.6 million (€142.9 million) increase demonstrates that fisheries research and management has been, and continues to be, a clear priority for NOAA.

In addition, to collect the foundational data required for fisheries research and management NOAA has invested significantly in its fleet of fisheries survey vessels (FSV). In 2007, Henry B. Bigelow was commissioned and started fisheries research in the northeast in FY 2008. Since then NOAA has received delivery of Pisces and Bell M. Shimada to support fisheries science efforts in the near future.

The FY 2011 budget includes requested funds for two fisheries survey vessels, FSV5 and FSV6.

NOAA Fisheries is committed to continuing our world class research. But research alone will not improve fisheries management. Concurrent to improved science, we must invest in implementation of fish management tools, such as catch shares.

 

WF: Finally, do you have any plans for reducing fish imports and developing fish production in the United States?

ES: Currently, 84% of the nation’s seafood is imported. Americans eat way more seafood than our fishers can provide. We believe that fish farming may provide some of the solution to this challenge. Right now, NOAA is holding public listening sessions around the country to help guide the development of a new national aquaculture policy.

Aquaculture supplies almost half of the world’s seafood and a significant portion of future increases in the global seafood supply are expected to come from aquaculture. The United States is a major consumer of aquaculture products, but a minor producer.

As I’ve mentioned, 84% of the nation’s seafood is imported. US aquaculture supplies about 5% of US seafood.

Aquaculture is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. It is also a significant source of protein for people in many countries, including the United States.

Globally, nearly half the fish consumed by humans is produced by fish farms. This worldwide trend toward aquaculture production is expected to continue.

At the same time, demand for safe, healthy seafood is also expected to grow.

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