Testimony Before the Caribbean Fishery Management Council Regarding Island-Based Fishery Management

On July 8, 2013, Liam Carr, a senior associate who works on fisheries policies in the U.S. Caribbean, spoke before the Caribbean Fishery Management Council regarding the transition from species-based to island-based fishery management.

Good evening. My name is Liam Carr, with the Pew Charitable Trusts. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the transition from species-based to island-based fishery management in the U.S. Caribbean.

This transition represents a major shift in how the Council manages the region's multi-species fishery resources and a unique opportunity to do so in an ecosystem-based, island-scale manner. Each of the three proposed fishery management plans must be developed carefully and deliberately and guided by a NEPA environmental review. The Council has already taken a step in this direction by establishing island-specific ACLs. You must also address other details of island-specific FMPs within the legal requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The new FMPs should include clear objectives for protecting top predators, grazers, forage fish, and habitat. They must also include tailored, enforceable actions that detail how effort will be managed, how overfishing will be prevented, how overfished stocks will be rebuilt, and how bycatch and waste will be minimized. Underpinning these actions, the Council should upgrade its data collection and monitoring to a more robust system that records fishery and ecosystem indicators, reference points, and performance measures to promote accountability and adaptive management.

To realize lasting fishery benefits, island FMPs need to focus on three areas. The first is maintaining healthy ecosystem services. Since U.S. Caribbean fisheries depend on healthy coral reefs, each fishery must be managed as part of the reef ecosystem. For example, healthy reefs need healthy parrotfish populations to graze away algal beds that threaten reef productivity. A sustainable parrotfish fishery – and associated catch limits - must therefore account for this species' ecosystem role, recognizing that mismanagement doesn't just impact catch levels of parrotfish but also the larger functionality of the reef and its fisheries.

Second, fish spawning aggregations need to be fully protected. This Council has seen the demonstrable benefits of protecting red hind spawning grounds off St. Thomas in the form of increased average size, biomass, population density, and spawning density for this popular fish. Scientists have identified a number of active spawning sites for commercially valuable snappers and groupers around each of the islands. They are the centers of fish production and their health directly correlates to the productivity of a fishery. Protecting fish when and where they spawn is vital for fishery sustainability.

Finally, targeted fish that play important roles in the ecosystem but do not fall under Council jurisdiction must be brought under management. These include pelagic species, such as dolphin and wahoo, and the forage fish community that constitutes much of the baitfish in the region. Though small in size, schooling fish like herring and ballyhoo are great in number and make up the foundation of the tropical marine food web.

These three areas represent key aspects of what the Magnuson Act deems "sound conservation and management principles." Ecosystem-based fishery management does not need to be complicated, just comprehensive. It will require commitment, cooperation and hard work from the Council, local fishing communities and the public. The Magnuson Act should guide you in establishing this 3-island framework for managing ecologically and economically sustainable fisheries and as you strengthen the important place that each fishery has in its island community.

Thank you for considering these comments. We look forward to working with you at this historic juncture in U.S. Caribbean fishery management.

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Debbie Salamone

Officer, Communications