Anglers make case for better management of fisheries

July 26, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC – With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration continuing to struggle in the management of the nation’s fisheries, lawmakers today held a committee hearing intended to explore the impact of a looming deadline that will force the agency to set annual catch limits on stocks of fish for which it has no science. Today’s hearing, “NOAA’s Fishery Science: Is the Lack of Basic Science Costing Jobs? looked at how NOAA’s fishery research affects jobs and the coastal economy.

As amended in 2006, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) requires federal fishery management councils to put in place annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) for every fishery by December 31, 2011. The requirements were intended to end overfishing by 2011 but were predicated on two critical assumptions: NOAA Fisheries would make decisions based on up-to-date and accurate stock assessments; and the agency would improve catch data to better anticipate potential problems in a given fishery. Neither of these obligations has been met.

Center for Coastal Conservation President Jeff Angers was invited to testify before the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs on behalf of American Sportfishing Association, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, International Game Fish Association, National Marine Manufacturers Association and The Billfish Foundation.

“How has the agency managed this great American business – marine recreational fishing – that generates $92.2 billion in total sales? That employs 533,813 people? That contributes $621.5 million in license purchases? How is NOAA Fisheries managing us?” asked Angers. “In a word: Poorly. All the vast, positive effects of recreational fishing on the American economy are based on three things: good management of marine fisheries, a sustainable resource and access to that resource. The agency’s lack of science is impacting all three.”


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In his testimony, Angers laid out the case for HR 2304, the Fishery Science Improvement Act, sponsored by Rob Wittman (R-Va.) that seeks to avoid a situation in which the agency is compelled by statutory deadlines to make major fishery management decisions using inadequate data and incomplete analysis. In one of its core provisions, HR 2304 states that if the agency has not assessed a stock of fish in the last five years and there is no indication that overfishing is occurring, there is no requirement to set an ACL.

“NOAA Fisheries is simply making guesses in many cases when setting catch limits and in determining other management parameters, and guesswork should have no place in federal fisheries management,” said Angers. “No other wildlife resource management agency would think of operating without standardized stock surveys and assessments. Yet, for our marine resources, a hodgepodge of partial bits of information that perhaps add up to an informed guess is somehow good enough. We don’t accept that. That will always fall short of the standards we as a nation have used for managing our fish and wildlife resources.”

HR 2304 is supported by the 300-member-strong Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, as well as groups representing sportfishers and the marine industry. More than a two dozen other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have signed on as co-sponsors.

“Without Congressional action, arbitrary decisions affecting millions of anglers and thousands of businesses will continue to be made, and we can’t let that happen to anglers on the coast of Virginia or Louisiana or California or Alaska,” said Angers.

“Today’s hearing is a wakeup call beyond this Subcommittee. The millions of Americans who responsibly utilize the nation’s public fishery resources and depend on them for jobs and recreation know this Congress can and will solve this problem.”