Analysis

2 New Developments Could Boost Health of Fisheries and Our Ocean

Now NOAA must act further to advance big-picture fisheries management

black sea bass

NOAA’s Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management Road Map moves us closer to broader implementation of a big-picture approach to setting rules for fishing that takes into consideration habitat, predator-prey relationships, and impacts from other factors, like changing ocean conditions.

© NOAA

Those of us who care about healthy oceans and fish populations are pleased to see two strong spotlights shine last week on ecosystem-based fishery management, or EBFM. As a reminder, the goal of EBFM is to better inform management decisions with a big-picture approach to fisheries management that uses existing data about where fish live, what they eat, what eats them, and what threats they face in order to ensure that ocean ecosystems and the fisheries they support are healthy and productive.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service released its final EBFM Road Map, building on the agency’s EBFM policy that was finalized this year. The road map details how the agency will continue to improve the science needed to implement EBFM. In general, Pew supports this effort because it demonstrates the agency’s commitment to encourage a more comprehensive approach to fishery management, an essential step to protect the health of our ocean in the face of changing environmental conditions.

Also last week, the Lenfest Ocean Program, a grant-making initiative that funds scientific research on policy-relevant topics, released a report from a task force convened in June 2014 that outlines a process for fishery management councils and other management bodies to develop fishery ecosystem plans (FEPs). An FEP is a document that pulls together the latest science to assess the health of an ecosystem and its interconnected elements, including how fishing affects the system. FEPs can help managers set goals and better understand the trade-offs that result from management decisions. Tapping the expertise of scientists, council members, and NOAA officials, the report is a good companion to NOAA’s road map.

As the agency moves toward the development of regional EBFM implementation plans, Pew urges NOAA to strengthen its advice to managers to ensure that EBFM considerations will be incorporated into their decisions. Specifically, NOAA should strengthen its guidance by:

  • Promoting the use of existing authorities and policies to reduce bycatch, protect habitat, and conserve forage fish—all pillars of effective EBFM.
  • Supporting the use of current scientific and modeling information to start putting EBFM into wider practice now.

Some regional fishery management councils have already begun the transition from a single-species approach to a more comprehensive one. Applying the EBFM road map and task force report’s recommendations will help managers begin to confront the 21st-century problems facing the ocean, a key step toward protecting fish and fishing for future generations.

Ted Morton leads fisheries work at the federal level for The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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